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This is one of the fundamental documents of our time, a period 
characterized by the concepts of 'information' and 'communica- 
tions'. Norbert Wiener, a child prodigy and a great mathematician, 
coined the term 'cybernetics' to characterize a very general science 
of 'control and communication in the animal and machine'. It 
brought together concepts from engineering, the study of the 
nervous system and statistical mechanics (e.g. entropy). From these 
he developed concepts that have become pervasive through science 
(especially biology and computing) and common parlance: 'in- 
formation', 'message', 'feedback' and 'control'. He wrote, 'the 
thought of every age is reflected in its technique ... If the 
seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are the age of clocks, 
and the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries constitute the age 
of steam engines, the present time is the age of communication and 

In this volume Norbert Wiener spells out his theories for the 
general reader and reflects on the social issues raised by the 
dramatically increasing role of science and technology in the new 
age - the age in which we are now deeply and problematically 
embroiled. His cautionary remarks are as relevant now as they were 
when the book first appeared in the 1950s. 

Norbert Wiener (1894-1964), Professor of Mathematics at the 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1919 onwards, wrote 
numerous books on mathematics and engineering. Having de- 
veloped methods useful to the military during World War Two, he 
later refused to do such work during the Cold War, while proposing 
non-military models of cybernetics. 



Norbert Wiener 

With a new Introduction by 
Steve J. Heims 


'nr. association in which the free development of each is the 
condition of the free development of all' 


\ J 

Published in Great Britain 1989 by 
Free Association Books 
26 Freegrove Road 
London N7 9RQ 

First published 1950; 1954, Houghton Mifflin 
Copyright, 1950, 1 954 by Norbert Wiener 
Introduction © Steve J. Heims 1989 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data 

Wiener, Norbert, 1894-1964 

The human use of human beings: cybernetics 
and society 

1 . Cybernetics. Sociological perspectives 

I. Title 


ISBN 1-85343-075-7 

Printed and bound in Great Britain by 
Bookcraft, Midsomer Norton, Avon 

To the memory of my father 
formerly Professor of Slavic Languages 

at Harvard University 
my closest mentor and dearest antagonist 


Part of a chapter has already appeared in the Philosophy of Science 
The author wishes to acknowledge permission which the publishei 
of this journal has given him to reprint the material. 


Biographical Notes ix 

Introduction by Steve J. Heims xi 

Appendix xxv 

Preface 7 

Cybernetics in History 1 5 

II Progress and Entropy 28 
HI Rigidity and Learning: Two Patterns 

of Communicative Behavior 48 

IV The Mechanism and History of 

Language 74 

V Organization as the Message 95 
VI Law and Communication 105 

VII Communication, Secrecy, and Social 

Policy 112 

VIII Role of the Intellectual and the 

Scientist 131 

IX The First and the Second Industrial 

Revolution 136 

X Some Communication Machines 

and Their P'uture 163 

XI Language, Confusion, and Jam 187 

Index 1 94 


Norbert Wiener, born in 1 894, was educated at Tufts College, 
Massachusetts, and Harvard University, Massachusetts, where he 
received his Ph.D. at the age of nineteen. He continued his studies 
at Cornell, Columbia, in England at Cambridge University, then at 
Gottingen and Copenhagen. He taught at Harvard and the Uni- 
versity of Maine and in 1919 joined the staff of the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology, where he was Professor of Mathematics. 
He was joint recipient of the Bocher Prize of the American 
Mathematical Society in 1933, and in 1936 was one of the seven 
American delegates to the International Congress of Mathemati- 
cians in Oslo. Dr Wiener served as Research Professor of 
Mathematics at the National Tsing Hua University in Peking in 
1935-36, while on leave from MIT. During World War II he 
developed improvements in radar and Navy projectiles and devised 
a method of solving problems of fire control. 

In the years after World War II Wiener worked with the Mexican 
physiologist Arturo Rosenblueth on problems in biology, and 
formulated the set of ideas spanning several disciplines which came 
to be known as 'cybernetics'. He worked with engineers and 
medical doctors to develop devices that could replace a lost sensory 
mode. He analysed some non-linear mathematical problems and, 
with Armand Siegel, reformulated quantum theory as a stochastic 
process. He also became an articulate commentator on the social 
implications of science and technology. In 1964 Wiener was 
recipient of the US National Medal of Science. 

His published works include The Fourier Integral and Certain of Its 
Applications (1933); Cybernetics (1948); Extrapolation and Interpolation 
and Smoothing of Stationary Time Series with Engineering Applications 
(1949); the first volume of an autobiography, Ex-Prodigy: My 
Childhood and Youth (1953); Tempter (1959); and God and Golem 
(1964). Wiener's published articles have been assembled and edited 
by P. Masani and republished in four volumes as Norbert Wiener: 
Collected Works (1985). 

Steve J. Heims received his doctorate in physics from Stanford 
University, California. He engaged in research in the branch of 


The Human Use of Human Beings 

physics known as statistical mechanics and taught at several North 
American universities. In recent years he has devoted himself to 
studying various contexts of scientific work: social, philosophical, 
political and technological. He is the author of John von Neumann 
and Norbert Wiener: From Mathematics to the Technologies of Life and 
Death (MIT Press, 1980). Currently he is writing a book dealing 
with the characteristics of social studies in the USA during the 
decade following World War II. 


Steve J. Heims 

G.H. Hardy, the Cambridge mathematician and author of 
A Mathematician's Apology reflecting on the value of 
mathematics, insisted that it is a 'harmless and innocent 
occupation'. 'Real mathematics has no effects on war', he 
explained in a book for the general public in 1940. 'No one 
has yet discovered any warlike purpose to be served by the 
theory of numbers or relativity ... A real mathematician has 
his conscience clear.' Yet, in fact, at that time physicists were 
already actively engaged in experiments converting matter 
into energy (a possibility implied by the Theory of Relativity) 
in anticipation of building an atomic bomb. Of the younger 
generation which he taught, Hardy wrote, 'I have helped to 
train other mathematicians, but mathematicians of the same 
kind as myself, and their work has been, so far at any rate as I 
have helped them to it, as useless as my own . . . ' 

Norbert Wiener took issue with his mentor. He thought 
Hardy's attitude to be 'pure escapism', noted that the ideas of 
number theory are applied in electrical engineering, and that 
'no matter how innocent he may be in his inner soul and in 
his motivation, the effective mathematician is likely to be a 
powerful factor in changing the face of society. Thus he is 
really as dangerous as a potential armourer of the new 
scientific war of the future.' The neat separation of pure and 
applied mathematics is only a mathematician's self-serving 

Wiener came to address the alternative to innocence - 
namely, taking responsibility. After he himself had during 
World War II worked on a mathematical theory of prediction 
intended to enhance the effectiveness of anti-aircraft fire, and 
developed a powerful statistical theory of communication 
which would put modern communication engineering on a 
rigorous mathematical footing, any pretence of harmlessness 
was out of the question for him. From the time of the end of 
the war until his death in 1964, Wiener applied his 

xii The Human Use of Human Beings 

penetrating and innovative mind to identifying and elaborat- 
ing on a relation of high technology to people which is benign 
or, in his words, to the human - rather than the inhuman - 
use of human beings. In doing so during the years when the 
cold war was raging in the United States, he found an 
audience among the generally educated public. However, 
most of his scientific colleagues - offended or embarrassed by 
Wiener's views and especially by his open refusal to engage in 
any more work related to the military - saw him as an 
eccentric at best and certainly not to be taken seriously except 
in his undeniably brilliant, strictly mathematical, researches. 
Albert Einstein, who regarded Wiener's attitude towards the 
military as exemplary, was in those days similarly made light 
of as unschooled in political matters. 

Undaunted, Wiener proceeded to construct a practical and 
comprehensive attitude towards technology rooted in his 
basic philosophical outlook, and presented it in lucid 
language. For him technologies were viewed not so much as 
applied science, but rather as applied social and moral 
philosophy. Others have been critical of technological 
developments and seen the industrial revolution as a mixed 
blessing. Unlike most of these critics, Wiener was simul- 
taneously an irrepressibly original non-stop thinker in 
mathematics, the sciences and high technology and equally an 
imaginative critic from a social, historical and ethical 
perspective of the uses of his own and his colleagues' 
handiwork. Because he gave rather unchecked rein to both of 
these inclinations, Wiener's writings generate a particular 
tension and have a special fascination. 

Now, four decades later, we see that the tenor of his 
comments on science, technology and society were on the 
whole prophetic and ahead of his time. In the intervening 
years his subject matter, arising out of the tension between 
technical fascination and social conscience, has become a 
respectable topic for research and scholarship. Even leading 
universities have caught up with it and created courses of 
study and academic departments with names such as 'science 
studies', 'technology studies' or 'science, technology and 



society'. His prediction of an imminent 'communication 
revolution' in which 'the message' would be a pivotal notion, 
and the associated technological developments would be in 
the area of communication, computation and organization, 
was clear-sighted indeed. 

The interrelation between science and society via tech- 
nologies is only one of the two themes underlying The Human 
Use of Human Beings. The other derives as much from 
Wiener's personal philosophy as from theoretical physics. 
Although he was a mathematician, his personal philosophy 
was rooted in existentialism, rather than in the formal-logical 
analytical philosophy so prominent in his day and associated 
with the names of Russell, Moore, Ramsey, Wittgenstein and 
Ayer. For Wiener life entailed struggle, but it was not the 
class struggle as a means to social progress emphasized by 
Marxists, nor was it identical with the conflict Freud saw 
between the individual and society. In his own words: 

We are swimming upstream against a great torrent of disorganiza- 
tion, which tends to reduce everything to the heat death of 
equilibrium and sameness described in the second law of thermo- 
dynamics. What Maxwell, Bolzmann and Gibbs meant by this heat 
death in physics has a counterpart in the ethic of Kierkegaard, who 
pointed out that we live in a chaotic moral universe. In this, our 
main obligation is to establish arbitrary enclaves of order and 
system. These enclaves will not remain there indefinitely by any 
momentum of their own after we have once established them . . . 
Wc arc not fighting for a definitive victory in the indefinite future. It 
is the greatest possible victory to be, to continue to be, and to have 
been . . . This is no defeatism, it is rather a sense of tragedy in a 
world in which necessity is represented by an inevitable disappear- 
ance of differentiation. The declaration of our own nature and the 
attempt to build an enclave of organization in the face of nature's 
overwhelming tendency to disorder is an insolence against the gods 
and the iron necessity that they impose. Here lies tragedy, but here 
lies glory too. 

Even when we discount the romantic, heroic overtones in that 
statement, Wiener is articulating what, as he saw and 
experienced it, makes living meaningful. The adjective 
'arbitrary' before 'order and system' helps to make the 

xiv The Human Use of Human Beings 

statement appropriate for many; it might have been made by 
an artist as readily as by a creative scientist. Wiener's outlook 
on life is couched in the language of conflict and heroic 
struggle against overwhelming natural tendencies. But he was 
talking about something very different from the ruthless 
exploitation, even destruction, of nature and successfully 
bending it to human purposes, which is part of the legacy, 
part of the nineteenth-century heroic ideal, of Western man. 
Wiener in his discussion of human purposes, recognizing 
feedbacks and larger systems which include the environment, 
had moved far away from that ideal and closer to an ideal of 
understanding and, both consciously and effectively, of 
collaborating with natural processes. 

I expect that Wiener would have welcomed some more 
recent developments in physics, as his thinking was already at 
times tending in that direction. Since his day developments in 
the field of statistical mechanics have come to modify the 
ideas about how orderly patterns - for example, the growth of 
plants and animals and the evolution of ecosystems - arise in 
the face of the second law of thermodynamics. As Wiener 
anticipated, the notions of information, feedback and non- 
linearity of the differential equations have become in- 
creasingly important in biology. 

But beyond that, Ilya Prigogine and his co-workers in 
Belgium have more recently made a convincing case that 
natural systems which are either far from thermodynamic 
equilibrium initially, or which fluctuate, may not return to 
equilibrium at all (G. Nicolis and I. Prigogine, Self- 
Organization in Nonequilibrinm Systems, 1977). Instead they 
continue to move still further away from equilibrium towards 
a different, increasingly complex and orderly, but neverthe- 
less stable pattern - not necessarily static, but possibly cyclic. 
According to the American physicist Willard Gibbs' way of 
thinking, the stable state of a system - equilibrium - is 
independent of its detailed initial conditions, yet that 
simplification no longer holds for systems finding stability far 
from equilibrium. This is an explicit mechanism quite 
different from that of a 'Maxwell demon' (explained in 



Chapter 2), the mechanism assumed necessary in Wiener's 
day. It is more nearly related to Wiener's notion of positive 
feedback, which he tended to see as only disruptive and 
destructive, rather than as leading to complex stable struc- 
tures. The results obtained by the Prigogine group show the 
creation of orderly patterns - natural countertrends to the 
tendency towards disorganization - to be stronger and more 
ordinary and commonplace than a sole reliance on mechan- 
isms of the Maxwell-demon type would suggest. Sensitivity to 
initial conditions is also a prominent feature of 'chaos theory', 
currently an active field of research. 

If, however, we now extend Wiener's analogy from 
statistical mechanics and incorporate the findings of the 
Prigogine group - according to which natural and spon- 
taneous mechanisms other than just the Maxwell demon 
generate organization and differentiation - this suggests a 
shift in emphasis from 'the human fight against the increase 
of entropy to create local enclaves of order' to a more 
co-operative endeavour which to a considerable extent occurs 
naturally and of its own accord. It is a subtle shift that can, 
however, make large differences. Yet to be explored, these 
differences appear to echo disagreements that some modern 
feminists, neo-Taoists and ecologists have with classical 
Greek concepts of the heroic and the tragic. 

Wiener's status, which he strongly prized, was that of an 
independent scientifically knowledgeable intellectual. He 
avoided accepting funds from government agencies or 
corporations that might in any way compromise his complete 
honesty and independence. Nor did he identify himself with 
any political, social or philosophical group, but spoke and 
wrote simply as an individual. He was suspicious of honours 
and prizes given for scientific achievement. After receiving 
the accolade of election to the National Academy of Sciences, 
he resigned, lest membership in that select, exclusive body of 
scientists corrupt his autonomous status as outsider vis-a-vis 
the American scientific establishment. He was of the tradition 
in which it is the intellectual's responsibility to speak truth to 
Power. This was in the post-war years, when the US 

xvi The Human Use of Human Beings 

government and many scientists and science administrators 
were celebrating the continuing partnership between govern- 
ment and science, government providing the funds and 
scientists engaging in research. Wiener remained aloof and 
highly critical of that peacetime arrangement. More precisely, 
he tried to stay aloof, but he would not separate himself 
completely because for many years he remained a professor at 
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an institution 
heavily involved in that partnership. As was his nature, he 
continued to talk to colleagues about his own fertile ideas, 
whether they dealt with mathematics, engineering or social 

The Human Use of Human Beings, first published in 1950, 
was a sequel to an earlier volume, Cybernetics: Or Control and 
Communication in the Animal and the Machine. That earlier 
volume broke new ground in several respects. First of all, it 
was a report on new scientific and technical developments of 
the 1 940s, especially on information theory, communication 
theory and communications technology, models of the brain 
and general-purpose computers. Secondly, it extended ideas 
and used metaphors from physics and electrical engineering 
to discuss a variety of topics including neuropathology, 
politics, society, learning and the nature of time. 

Wiener had been an active participant in pre-war interdis- 
ciplinary seminars. After the war he regularly took part in a 
series of small conferences of mathematicians and engineers, 
which were also attended by biologists, anthropologists, 
sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists, in which the set 
of ideas subsumed under cybernetics was explored in the 
light of these various disciplines. At these conferences 
Wiener availed himself of the convenient opportunity to 
become acquainted with current research on a broad range of 
topics outside of his speciality. 

Already in his Cybernetics Wiener had raised questions 
about the benefits of the new ideas and technologies, 
concluding pessimistically, 

there are those who hope that the good of a better understanding of 



ma n and society which is offered by this new field of work may 
anticipate and outweigh the incidental contribution we are making 
to the concentration of power. I write in 1947, and I am compelled 
to say that it is a very slight hope. 

The book was a rarity also in that, along with the technical 
material, he discussed ethical issues at length. The Human Use 
of Human Beings is a popularization of Cybernetics (omitting the 
forbidding mathematics), though with a special emphasis on 
the description of the human and the social. 

The present volume is a reprint of the second (1954) 
edition, which differs significantly from the original hard- 
cover edition. The notable reorganization of the book and the 
changes made deserve attention. In the first edition we read 
that 'the purpose of this book is both to explain the 
potentialities of the machine in fields which up to now have 
been taken to be purely human, and to warn against the 
dangers of a purely selfish exploitation of these possibilities in 
a world in which to human beings human things are 
all-important.' After commenting critically about patterns of 
social organization in which all orders come from above, and 
none return ('an ideal held by many Fascists, Strong Men in 
Business, and Government'), he explains, 'I wish to devote 
this book [first edition] to a protest against this inhuman use 
of human beings.' The second edition, in contrast, as stated 
in the Preface, is organized around Wiener's other major 
theme, 'the impact of the Gibbsian point of view on modern 
life, both through the substantive changes it has made in 
working science, and through the changes it has made 
indirectly in our attitude to life in general.' The second 
edition, where the framework is more philosophical and less 
political, appears to be presented in such a way as to make it 
of interest not only in 1954, but also for many years to come. 
T he writing and the organization are a bit tighter and more 
orderly than in the first edition. It also includes comment on 
some exemplifications of cybernetics (e.g., the work of Ross 
Ashby) that had come to Wiener's attention only during the 
early 1950s. Yet, even though several chapters are essentially 
unchanged, something was lost in going from the first to the 

xviii The Human Use of Human Beings 

second edition. I miss the bluntness and pungency of some of 
the comments in the earlier edition, which apparently were 
'cleaned up' for the second. 

The cause celebre in 1954 in the USA was the Oppenheimer 
case. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who had directed 
the building of atom bombs during World War II, had 
subsequently come to disagree with the politically dominant 
figures in the government who were eager to develop and 
build with the greatest possible speed hydrogen bombs a 
thousand times more powerful than the atom bombs which 
had devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oppenheimer 
urged delay, as he preferred that a further effort be made to 
negotiate with the Soviet Union before proceeding with such 
an irreversible escalation of the arms race. This policy 
difference lay behind the dramatic Oppenheimer hearings, 
humiliating proceedings at the height of the anti-Communist 
'McCarthy era' (and of the US Congressional 'Un-American 
Activities Committee'), leading to, absurdly, the labelling of 
Oppenheimer as a 'security risk'. 

In that political atmosphere it is not surprising for a 
publisher to prefer a different focus than the misuse of the 
latest technologies, or the dangers of capitalist exploitation of 
technologies for profit. Wiener himself was at that time going 
on a lecture tour to India and was then occupied with several 
other projects, such as writing the second volume of his 
autobiography, the mathematical analysis of brain waves, 
sensory prosthesis and a new formulation of quantum theory. 
He did not concern himself a great deal with the revision of a 
book he had written several years earlier - it would be more 
characteristic of him to write a new book or add a new 
chapter, rather than revise a book already written - although 
he must have agreed to all revisions and editorial changes. 

At the end of the book, in both editions, Wiener compares 
the Catholic Church with the Communist Party, and both 
with cold war government activities in capitalist America. The 
criticisms of America in these last few pages of the first 
edition (see Appendix to this Introduction) are, in spite of one 
brief pointed reference to McCarthyism, largely absent in the 



second edition. There are other differences in the two 
editions. The chapter 'Progress and Entropy', for example, is 
much longer in the first edition. The section on the history of 
inventions within that chapter is more detailed. The chapter 
also deals with such topics as the depletion of resources and 
American dependence on other nations for oil, copper and 
tin, and the possibility of an energy-crisis unless new 
inventions obviate it. It reviews vividly the progress in 
medicine and anticipates new problems, such as the increas- 
ing use of synthetic foods that may contain minute quantities 
of carcinogens. These and other discursive excursions, 
peripheral to the main line of argument of the book, are 
omitted in the present edition. 

The Human Use of Human Beings was not Wiener's last word 
on the subject. He continued to think and talk and write. In 
1959 he addressed and provoked a gathering of scientists by 
his reflections and analysis of some moral and technical 
consequences of automation (Science, vol. 131, p. 1358, 
1960), and in his last book (God and Golem, Inc., 1964) he 
returned to ethical concerns from the perspective of the 
creative scientist or engineer. 

It was Wiener's lifelong obsession to distinguish the human 
from the machine, having recognized the identity of patterns 
of organization and of many functions which can be 
performed by either, but in The Human Use of Human Beings it 
is his intention to place his understanding of the people/ 
machines identity/dichotomy within the context of his 
generous and humane social philosophy. Cybernetics had 
originated from the analysis of formal analogies between the 
behaviour of organisms and that of electronic and mechanical 
systems. The mostly military technologies new in his day, 
which today we call 'artificial intelligence', highlighted the 
Potential resemblance between certain elaborate machines 
a nd people. Academic psychology in North America was in 
those days still predominantly behaviourist. The cybernetic 
machines - such as general-purpose computers - suggested a 
Possibility as to the nature of mind: mind was analogous to 

e forr nal structure and organization, or the software aspect, 

xx The Human Use of Human Beings 

of a reasoning-and-perceiving machine that could also issue 
instructions leading to actions. Thus the long-standing 
mind-brain duality was overcome by a materialism which 
encompassed organization, messages and information in 
addition to stuff and matter. But the subjective - an 
individual's cumulative experience, sensations and feelings, 
including the subjective experience of being alive - is 
belittled, seen only within the context of evolutionary theory 
as providing information useful for survival to the organism. 

If shorn of Wiener's benign social philosophy, what 
remains of cybernetics can be used within a highly mechani- 
cal and dehumanizing, even militaristic, outlook. The fact 
that the metaphor of a sophisticated automaton is so heavily 
employed invites thinking about humans as in effect 
machines. Many who have learned merely the technical 
aspects of cybernetics have used them, and do so today, for 
ends which Wiener abhorred. It is a danger he foresaw, 
would have liked to obviate and, although aware of how little 
he could do in that regard, valiantly tried to head off. 

The technological developments in themselves are im- 
pressive, but since most of us already have to bear with a glut 
of promotional literature it is more to the point here to frame 
discussion not in the promoters' terms (what the new 
machine can do), but in a more human and social framework: 
how is the machine affecting people's lives? Or still more 
pointedly: who reaps a benefit from it? Wiener urged 
scientists and engineers to practise 'the imaginative forward 
glance' so as to attempt assessing the impact of an innovation, 
even before making it known. 

However, once some of the machines or techniques were 
put on the market, a younger generation with sensitivity to 
human and social impacts could report empirically where the 
shoe pinches. Even though such reports may not suffice to 
radically change conventional patterns of deployment of 
technologies, which after all express many kinds of political 
and economic interests, they at least document what happens 
and help to educate the public. As long as their authors avoid 
an a priori pro-technology or anti-technology bias, they 



effectively carry on where Wiener left off. Among such 
reports we note Joseph Weizenbaum's description of the 
human damage manifested in the 'compulsive programmer', 
which poses questions about appropriate and inappropriate 
uses of computers {Computer Power and Human Reason, 1976). 
Similarly David Noble has documented how the introduction 
of automation in the machine-tool industry has resulted in a 
deskilling of machinists to their detriment, and has described 
in detail the political process by which this deskilling was 
brought about {Forces of Production, 1984). 

These kinds of 'inhuman' uses seem nearly subtle if placed 
next to the potentially most damaging use, war. The growth of 
communication-computation-automation devices and sys- 
tems had made relatively small beginnings during World War 
II, but since then has been given high priority in US 
government-subsidized military research and development, 
and in the Soviet Union as well; their proliferation in military 
contexts has been enormous and extensive. A proper critique 
would entail an analysis in depth of world politics, and 
especially the political relations of the two 'superpowers'. 
Wiener feared that he had helped to provide tools for the 
centralization of power, and indeed he and his fellow 
scientists and engineers had. For instance, under the Reagan 
government many billions of dollars were spent on plans for a 
protracted strategic nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The 
technological 'challenge' was seen to be the development of 
an effective C-cubed system (command, control and com- 
munication) which would be used to destroy enemy political 
and command centres and at the same time, through a 
multitude of methods, prevent the destruction of the 
corresponding American centres, leaving the USA fully in 
command throughout the nuclear war and victorious. Some 
principled scientists and engineers have, in a Wienerian 
spirit, refused to work on, or have stopped working on, such 
mad schemes, or on implementing the politicians' 'Star- 
Wars' fantasies. 

We have already alluded to Wiener's heavy use of 
metaphors from engineering to describe the human and the 

xxii The Human Use of Human Beings 

social, and his neglect of the subjective experience. In the 
post-war years American sociologists, anthropologists, poli- 
tical scientists and psychologists tried harder than ever to be 
seen as 'scientific'. They readily borrowed the engineers' 
idiom and many sought to learn from the engineers' or 
mathematicians' thinking. Continental European social 
thinkers were far more inclined to attend to the human 
subject and to make less optimistic claims about their 
scientific expertise, but it required another decade before 
European thought substantially influenced the positivistic or 
logical-empiricist predilections of the mainstream of Amer- 
ican social scientists. 

A major development in academic psychology, prominent 
and well-funded today, relies strongly on the concept of 
information processing and models based on the computer. It 
traces its origins to the discussions on cybernetics in the 
post-war years and the wartime work of the British psycho- 
logist Kenneth Craik. This development, known as 'cognitive 
science', entirely ignores background contexts, the culture, 
the society, history, subjective experience, human feelings 
and emotions. Thus it works with a highly impoverished 
model of what it is to be human. Such models have, however, 
found their challengers and critics, ranging from the journal- 
ist Gordon Ratray Taylor (The Natural History of Mind, 1979) 
to the psychologist James J. Gibson, the latter providing a far 
different approach to how humans know and perceive (The 
Perception of the Visual World, 1950; The Senses Considered as 
Perceptual Systems, 1966; The Ecological Approach to Visual 
Perception, 1979). 

If we trace the intellectual history of current thinking in 
such diverse fields as cellular biology, medicine, anthropo- 
logy, psychiatry, ecology and economics, we find that in each 
discipline concepts coming from cybernetics consitute one of 
the streams that have fed it. Cybernetics, including informa- 
tion theory, systems with purposive behaviour and automaton 
models, was part of the intellectual dialogue of the 1950s and 
has since mingled with many other streams, has been absorbed 
and become part of the conventional idiom and practice. 



Too many writings about technologies are dismal, narrow 
apologetics for special interests, and not very edifying. Yet the 
subject matter is intrinsically extremely varied and stimulating 
to an enquiring mind. It has profound implications for our 
day-to-day lives, their structure and their quality. The social 
history of science and technology is a rich resource, even for 
imagining and reflecting on the future. Moreover the topic 
highlights central dilemmas in every political system. For 
example, how is the role of 'experts' in advising governments 
related to political process? Or how is it possible to reconcile, 
in a capitalist economy within a democratic political structure, 
the unavoidable conflict between public interest and decision 
by a popular vote, on the one hand, and corporate decisions 
as to which engineering projects are profitable, on the other? 

We are now seeing the rise of a relatively new genre of 
writing about technologies and people which is interesting, 
concrete, open, exploratory and confronts political issues 
head-on. We need this writing, for we are living in what Ellul 
has appropriately called a technological society. Within that 
genre, Wiener's books, as well as some earlier writings by 
Lewis Mumford, are among the few pioneering works that 
have become classics. The present reissue of one of these 
classics is cause for rejoicing. May it stimulate readers to 
think passionately for themselves about the human use of 
human beings with the kind of intellectual honesty and 
compassion Wiener brought to the subject. 

Steve J. Heims 
Boston, October 1988 


What follows are two documents from Norbert Wiener's 

- an open letter published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, 
January 1947 issue; and 

- the concluding passages of The Human Use of Human Beings, 
1st edition, Houghton-Mifflin, 1950, pp. 228-9. 

xxvi The Human Use of Human Beings 

A Scientist Rkbf.i.s 

The letter which follows was addressed by one of our 
ranking mathematicians to a research scientist of a great 
aircraft corporation, who had asked him for the technical 
account of a certain line of research he had conducted in the 
war. Professor Wiener's indignation at being requested to 
participate in indiscriminate rearmament, less than two years 
after victory, is typical of many American scientists who 
served their country faithfully during the war. 

Professor of Mathematics in one of our great Eastern 
institutions, Norbert Wiener was born in Columbia, Mis- 
souri, in 1894, the son of Leo Wiener, Professor of Slavic 
Languages at Harvard University. He took his doctorate at 
Harvard and did his graduate work in England and in 
Gottingen. Today he is esteemed one of the world's foremost 
mathematical analysts. His ideas played a significant part in 
the development of the theories of communication and 
control which were essential in winning the war. 
- The Editor, Atlantic Monthly 


I have received from you a note in which you state that you 
are engaged in a project concerning controlled missiles, and 
in which you request a copy of a paper which I wrote for the 
National Defense Research Committee during the war. 

As the paper is the property of a government organization, 
you are of course at complete liberty to turn to that govern- 
ment organization for such information as I could give you. If 
it is out of print as you say, and they desire to make it available 
for you, there are doubtless proper avenues of approach to 

When, however, you turn to me for information concerning 
controlled missiles, there are several considerations which 
determine my reply. In the past, the comity of scholars has 
made it a custom to furnish scientific information to any 
person seriously seeking it. However, we must face these 
facts: the policy of the government itself during and after the 



war, say in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has 
made it clear that to provide scientific information is not a 
necessarily innocent act, and may entail the gravest consequ- 
ences. One therefore cannot escape reconsidering the estab- 
lished custom of the scientist to give information to every 
person who may enquire of him. The interchange of ideas 
which is one of the great traditions of science must of course 
receive certain limitations when the scientist becomes an 
arbiter of life and death. 

For the sake, however, of the scientist and the public, these 
limitations should be as intelligent as possible. The measures 
taken during the war by our military agencies, in restricting 
the free intercourse among scientists on related projects or 
even on the same project, have gone so far that it is clear that 
if continued in time of peace this policy will lead to the total 
irresponsibility of the scientist, and ultimately to the death of 
science. Both of these are disastrous for our civilization, and 
entail grave and immediate peril for the public. 

I realize, of course, that I am acting as the censor of my 
own ideas, and it may sound arbitrary, but I will not accept a 
censorship in which I do not participate. The experience of 
the scientists who have worked on the atomic bomb has 
indicated that in any investigation of this kind the scientist 
ends by putting unlimited powers in the hands of the people 
whom he is least inclined to trust with their use. It is perfectly 
clear also that to disseminate information about a weapon in 
the present state of our civilization is to make it practically 
certain that that weapon will be used. In that respect the 
controlled missile represents the still imperfect supplement to 
the atom bomb and to bacterial warfare. 

The practical use of guided missiles can only be to kill 
foreign civilians indiscriminately, and it furnishes no protec- 
tion whatsoever to civilians in this country. I cannot conceive 
a situation in which such weapons can produce any effect 
other than extending the kamikaze way of fighting to whole 
nations. Their possession can do nothing but endanger us by 
encouraging the tragic insolence of the militan mind. 

If therefore I do not desire to participate in the bombing or 


The Human Use of Human Beings 

poisoning of defenceless peoples - and I most certainly do not 
- I must take a serious responsibility as to those to whom I 
disclose my scientific ideas. Since it is obvious that with 
sufficient effort you can obtain my material, even though it is 
out of print, I can only protest pro forma in refusing to give you 
any information concerning my past work. However, I rejoice 
at the fact that my material is not readily available, inasmuch 
as it gives me the opportunity to raise this serious moral issue. 
I do not expect to publish any future work of mine which may 
do damage in the hands of irresponsible militarists. 

I am taking the liberty of calling this letter to the attention 
of other people in scientific work. I believe it is only proper 
that they should know of it in order to make their own 
independent decisions, if similar situations should confront 

Norbert Wiener 



The Human Use of Human Beings 

I have indicated that freedom of opinion at the present time 
is being crushed between the two rigidities of the Church and 
the Communist Party. In the United States we are in the 
process of developing a new rigidity which combines the 
methods of both while partaking of the emotional fervour of 
neither. Our Conservatives of all shades of opinion have 
somehow got together to make American capitalism and the 
fifth freedom of the businessman supreme throughout all the 

Our military men and our great merchant princes have 
looked upon the propaganda technique of the Russians, and 
have found that it is good. They have found a worthy 
counterpart for the GPU in the FBI, in its new role of 
political censor. They have not considered that these 
weapons form something fundamentally distasteful to 
humanity, and that they need the full force of an overwhelm- 
ing faith and belief to make them even tolerable. This faith 
and belief they have nowhere striven to replace. Thus they 
have been false to the dearest part of our American traditions, 
without offering us any principles for which we may die, 
except a merely negative hatred of Communism. They have 
succeeded in being un-American without being radical. To 
this end we have invented a new inquisition: the Inquisition of 
Teachers' Oaths and of Congressional Committees. We have 
synthesized a new propaganda, lacking only one element 
which is common to the Church and to the Communist Party, 
and that is the element of Belief. We have accepted the 
methods, not the ideals of our possible antagonists, little 
realizing that it is the ideals which have given the methods 
whatever cogency they possess. Ourselves without faith, we 
presume to punish heresy. May the absurdity of our position 
soon perish amidst the Homeric laughter that it deserves. 

It is this triple attack on our liberties which we must resist, 
if communication is to have the scope that it properly 
deserves as the central phenomenon of society, and if the 
human individual is to reach and to maintain his full stature. 


The Human Use of Human Beings 

It is again the American worship of know-how as opposed to 
know-what that hampers us. We rightly see great dangers in 
the totalitarian system of Communism. On the one hand, we 
have called in to combat these the assistance of a totalitarian 
Church which is in no respect ready to accept, in support of 
its standards, milder means than those to which Communism 
appeals. On the other hand, we have attempted to synthesize 
a rigid system to fight fire by fire, and to oppose Communism 
by institutions which bear more than a fortuitous resemblance 
to Communistic institutions. In this we have failed to realize 
that the element in Communism which essentially deserves 
our respect consists in its loyalties and in its insistence on the 
dignity and the rights of the worker. What is bad consists 
chiefly in the ruthless techniques to which the present phase 
of the Communist revolution has resorted. Our leaders show 
a disquieting complacency in their acceptance of the ruthless- 
ness and a disquieting unwillingness to refer their acts to any 
guiding principles. Fundamentally, behind our counter- 
ruthlessness there is no adequate basis of real heartfelt 
assent. Let us hope that it is still possible to reverse the tide of 
the moment and to create a future America in which man can 
live and can grow to be a human being in the fullest and 
richest sense of the word. 



The beginning of the twentieth century marked 
more than the end of one hundred-year period and the 
start of another. There was a real change of point of 
view even before we made the political transition from 
the century on the whole dominated by peace, to the 
half century of war through which we have just been 
living. This was perhaps first apparent in science, al- 
though it is quite possible that whatever has affected 
science led independently to the marked break which 
we find between the arts and literature of the nine- 
teenth and those of the twentieth centuries. 

Newtonian physics, which had ruled from the end of 
the seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth 
with scarcely an opposing voice, described a universe 
in which everything happened precisely according to 
law, a compact, tightly organized universe in which the 
whole future depends strictly upon the whole past. 
Such a picture can never be either fully justified or 
fully rejected experimentally and belongs in large 
measure to a conception of the world which is sup- 
plementary to experiment but in some ways more uni- 
versal than anything that can be experimentally 
verified. We can never test by our imperfect experi- 
ments whether one set of physical laws or another can 
be verified down to the last decimal. The Newtonian 
view, however, was compelled to state and formulate 
physics as if it were, in fact, subject to such laws. This 
is now no longer the dominating attitude of physics, 
and the men who contributed most to its downfall were 
Bolzmann in Germany and Gibbs in the United States. 

These two physicists undertook a radical application 
of an exciting, new idea. Perhaps the use of statistics 
in physics which, in large measure, they introduced 
Was not completely new, for Maxwell and others had 

The Human Use of Human Beings 

It is again the American worship of know-how as opposed to 
know-what that hampers us. We rightly see great dangers in 
the totalitarian system of Communism. On the one hand, we 
have called in to combat these the assistance of a totalitarian 
Church which is in no respect ready to accept, in support of 
its standards, milder means than those to which Communism 
appeals. On the other hand, we have attempted to synthesize 
a rigid system to fight fire by fire, and to oppose Communism 
by institutions which bear more than a fortuitous resemblance 
to Communistic institutions. In this we have failed to realize 
that the element in Communism which essentially deserves 
our respect consists in its loyalties and in its insistence on the 
dignity and the rights of the worker. What is bad consists 
chiefly in the ruthless techniques to which the present phase 
of the Communist revolution has resorted. Our leaders show 
a disquieting complacency in their acceptance of the ruthless- 
ness and a disquieting unwillingness to refer their acts to any 
guiding principles. Fundamentally, behind our counter- 
ruthlessness there is no adequate basis of real heartfelt 
assent. Let us hope that it is still possible to reverse the tide of 
the moment and to create a future America in which man can 
live and can grow to be a human being in the fullest and 
richest sense of the word. 



The beginning of the twentieth century marked 
more than the end of one hundred-year period and the 
start of another. There was a real change of point of 
view even before we made the political transition from 
the century on the whole dominated by peace, to the 
half century of war through which we have just been 
living. This was perhaps first apparent in science, al- 
though it is quite possible that whatever has affected 
science led independently to the marked break which 
we find between the arts and literature of the nine- 
teenth and those of the twentieth centuries. 

Newtonian physics, which had ruled from the end of 
the seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth 
with scarcely an opposing voice, described a universe 
in which everything happened precisely according to 
law, a compact, tightly organized universe in which the 
whole future depends strictly upon the whole past. 
Such a picture can never be either fully justified or 
fully rejected experimentally and belongs in large 
measure to a conception of the world which is sup- 
plementary to experiment but in some ways more uni- 
versal than anything that can be experimentally 
verified. We can never test by our imperfect experi- 
ments whether one set of physical laws or another can 
be verified down to the last decimal. The Newtonian 
view, however, was compelled to state and formulate 
physics as if it were, in fact, subject to such laws. This 
is now no longer the dominating attitude of physics, 
and the men who contributed most to its downfall were 
Bolzmann in Germany and Gibbs in the United States. 

These two physicists undertook a radical application 
of an exciting, new idea. Perhaps the use of statistics 
in physics which, in large measure, they introduced 
Was not completely new, for Maxwell and others had 



considered worlds of very large numbers of particles 
which necessarily had to be treated statistically. But 
what Bolzmann and Gibbs did was to introduce statis- 
tics into physics in a much more thoroughgoing way, 
so that the statistical approach was valid not merely 
for systems of enormous complexity, but even for sys- 
tems as simple as the single particle in a field of force. 

Statistics is the science of distribution, and the dis- 
tribution contemplated by these modern scientists was 
not concerned with large numbers of similar particles, 
but with the various positions and velocities from 
which a physical system might start. In other words, 
under the Newtonian system the same physical laws 
apply to a variety of systems starting from a variety of 
positions and with a variety of momenta. The new stat- 
isticians put this point of view in a fresh light. They 
retained indeed the principle according to which cer- 
tain systems may be distinguished from others by their 
total energy, but they rejected the supposition accord- 
ing to which systems with the same total energy may 
be clearly distinguished indefinitely and described for- 
ever by fixed causal laws. 

There was, actually, an important statistical reserva- 
tion implicit in Newton's work, though the eighteenth 
century, which lived by Newton, ignored it. No phys- 
ical measurements are ever precise; and what we have 
to say about a machine or other dynamic system really 
concerns not what we must expect when the initial po- 
sitions and momenta are given with perfect accuracy 
(which never occurs ), but what we are to expect when 
they are given with attainable accuracy. This merely 
means that we know, not the complete initial condi- 
tions, but something about their distribution. The func- 
tional part of physics, in other words, cannot escape 
considering uncertainty and the contingency of events. 
It was the merit of Gibbs to show for the first time a 
clean-cut scientific method for taking this contingency 
into consideration. 



The historian of science looks in vain for a single line 
of development. Gibbs' work, while well cut out, was 
badly sewed, and it remained for others to complete 
the job that he began. The intuition on which he based 
his work was that, in general, a physical system belong- 
ing to a class of physical systems, which continues to 
retain its identity as a class, eventually reproduces in 
almost all cases the distribution which it shows at any 
given time over the whole class of systems. In other 
words, under certain circumstances a system runs 
through all the distributions of position and momentum 
which are compatible with its energy, if it keeps run- 
ning long enough. 

This last proposition, however, is neither true nor 
possible in anything but trivial systems. Nevertheless, 
there is another route leading to the results which 
Gibbs needed to bolster his hypothesis. The irony of 
history is that this route was being explored very thor- 
oughly in Paris at exactly the time when Gibbs was 
working in New Haven; and yet it was not until 1920 
that the Paris work met the New Haven work in a fruit- 
ful union. I had, I believe, the honor of assisting at the 
birth of the first child of this union. 

Gibbs had to work with theories of measure and 
probability which were already at least twenty-five 
years old and were grossly inadequate to his needs. At 
the same time, however, Borel and Lebesgue in Paris 
were devising the theory of integration which was to 
prove apposite to the Gibbsian ideas. Borel was a math- 
ematician who had already made his reputation in the 
theory of probability and had an excellent physical 
sense. He did work leading to this theory of measure, 
but he did not reach the stage in which he could close 
it into a complete theory. This was done by his pupil 
Lebesgue, who was a very different sort of person. He 
had neither the sense of physics nor an interest in it. 
Nonetheless Lebesgue solved the problem put by 
Borel, but he regarded the solution of this problem as 


no more than a tool for Fourier series and other 
branches of pure mathematics. A quarrel developed 
between the two men when they both became can- 
didates for admission to the French Academy of Sci- 
ences, and only after a great deal of mutual 
denigration, did they both receive this honor. Borel, 
however, continued to maintain the importance of 
Lebesgue's work and his own as a physical tool; but I 
believe that I myself, in 1920, was the first person to 
apply the Lebesgue integral to a specific physical prob- 
lem—that of the Brownian motion. 

This occurred long after Gibbs' death, and his work 
remained for two decades one of those mysteries of sci- 
ence which work even though it seems that they ought 
not to work. Many men have had intuitions well ahead 
of their time; and this is not least true in mathematical 
physics. Gibbs' introduction of probability into physics 
occurred well before there was an adequate theory of 
the sort of probability he needed. But for all these gaps 
it is, I am convinced, Gibbs rather than Einstein or 
Heisenberg or Planck to whom we must attribute the 
first great revolution of twentieth century physics. 

This revolution has had the effect that physics now 
no longer claims to deal with what will always happen, 
but rather with what will happen with an overwhelm- 
ing probability. At the beginning in Gibbs' own work 
this contingent attitude was superimposed on a New- 
tonian base in which the elements whose probability 
was to be discussed were systems obeying all of the 
Newtonian laws. Gibbs' theory was essentially new, 
but the permutations with which it was compatible 
were the same as those contemplated by Newton. 
What has happened to physics since is that the rigid 
Newtonian basis has been discarded or modified, and 
the Gibbsian contingency now stands in its complete 
nakedness as the full basis of physics. It is true that 
the books are not yet quite closed on this issue and 
that Einstein and, in some of his phases, De Broglie, 



still contend that a rigid deterministic world is more 
acceptable than a contingent one; but these great sci- 
entists are fighting a rear-guard action against the over- 
whelming force of a younger generation. 

One interesting change that has taken place is that 
in a probabilistic world we no longer deal with quan- 
tities and statements which concern a specific, real uni- 
verse as a whole but ask instead questions which may 
find their answers in a large number of similar uni- 
verses. Thus chance has been admitted, not merely as 
a mathematical tool for physics, but as part of its warp 
and weft. 

This recognition of an element of incomplete de- 
terminism, almost an irrationality in the world, is in a 
certain way parallel to Freud's admission of a deep ir- 
rational component in human conduct and thought. In 
the present world of political as well as intellectual 
confusion, there is a natural tendency to class Gibbs, 
Freud, and the proponents of the modern theory of 
probability together as representatives of a single tend- 
ency; yet I do not wish to press this point. The gap 
between the Gibbs-Lebesgue way of thinking and 
Freud's intuitive but somewhat discursive method is 
too large. Yet in their recognition of a fundamental ele- 
ment of chance in the texture of the universe itself, 
these men are close to one another and close to the 
tradition of St. Augustine. For this random element, 
this organic incompleteness, is one which without too 
violent a figure of speech we may consider evil; the 
negative evil which St. Augustine characterizes as in- 
completeness, rather than the positive malicious evil of 
the Manichaeans. 

This book is devoted to the impact of the Gibbsian 
point of view on modern life, both through the sub- 
stantive changes it has made in working science, and 
through the changes it has made indirectly in our at- 
titude to life in general. Thus the following chapters 
contain an element of technical description as well as 


a philosophic component which concerns what we do 
and how we should react to the new world that con- 
fronts us. 

I repeat: Gibbs' innovation was to consider not one 
world, but all the worlds which are possible answers to 
a limited set of questions concerning our environment. 
His central notion concerned the extent to which an- 
swers that we may give to questions about one set of 
worlds are probable among a larger set of worlds. Be- 
yond this, Gibbs had a theory that this probability 
tended naturally to increase as the universe grows 
older. The measure of this probability is called entropy, 
and the characteristic tendency of entropy is to in- 

As entropy increases, the universe, and all closed 
systems in the universe, tend naturally to deteriorate 
and lose their distinctiveness, to move from the least 
to the most probable state, from a state of organization 
and differentiation in which distinctions and forms ex- 
ist, to a state of chaos and sameness. In Gibbs' universe 
order is least probable, chaos most probable. But while 
the universe as a whole, if indeed there is a whole uni- 
verse, tends to run down, there are local enclaves 
whose direction seems opposed to that of the universe 
at large and in which there is a limited and temporary 
tendency for organization to increase. Life finds its 
home in some of these enclaves. It is with this point of 
view at its core that the new science of Cybernetics 
began its development. 1 

1 There are those who are skeptical as to the precise 
identity between entropy and biological disorganization. It 
will be necessary for me to evaluate these criticisms sooner 
or later, but for the present I must assume that the differ- 
ences lie, not in the fundamental nature of these quantities, 
but in the systems in which they are observed. It is too 
much to expect a final, clear-cut definition of entropy on 
which all writers will agree in any less than the closed, 
isolated system. 




Since the end of World War II, I have been working 
on the many ramifications of the theory of messages. 
Besides the electrical engineering theory of the trans- 
mission of messages, there is a larger field which in- 
cludes not only the study of language but the study of 
messages as a means of controlling machinery and 
society, the development of computing machines and 
other such automata, certain reflections upon psychol- 
ogy and the nervous system, and a tentative new theory 
of scientific method. This larger theory of messages is 
a probabilistic theory, an intrinsic part of the move- 
ment that owes its origin to Willard Gibbs and which 
I have described in the introduction. 

Until recently, there was no existing word for this 
complex of ideas, and in order to embrace the whole 
field by a single term, I felt constrained to invent one. 
Hence "Cybernetics," which I derived from the Greek 
word kubernetes, or "steersman," the same Greek word 
from which we eventually derive our word "governor." 
Incidentally, I found later that the word had already 
been used by Ampere with reference to political 
science, and had been introduced in another context 
by a Polish scientist, both uses dating from the earlier 
part of the nineteenth century. 

I wrote a more or less technical book entitled 
Cybernetics which was published in 1948. In response 
to a certain demand for me to make its ideas acceptable 
to the lay public, I published the first edition of The 
Human Use of Human Beings in 1950. Since then the 


subject has grown from a few ideas shared by Drs. 
Claude Shannon, Warren Weaver, and myself, into an 
established region of research. Therefore, I take this 
opportunity occasioned by the reprinting of my book 
to bring it up to date, and to remove certain defects 
and inconsequentialities in its original structure. 

In giving the definition of Cybernetics in the original 
book, I classed communication and control together. 
Why did I do this? When I communicate with another 
person, I impart a message to him, and when he com- 
municates back with me he returns a related message 
which contains information primarily accessible to him 
and not to me. When I control the actions of another 
person, I communicate a message to him, and although 
this message is in the imperative mood, the technique 
of communication does not differ from that of a message 
of fact. Furthermore, if my control is to be effective I 
must take cognizance of any messages from him which 
may indicate that the order is understood and has been 

It is the thesis of this book that society can only be 
understood through a study of the messages and the 
communication facilities which belong to it; and that 
in the future development of these messages and com- 
munication facilities, messages between man and ma- 
chines, between machines and man, and between 
machine and machine, are destined to play an ever- 
increasing part. 

When I give an order to a machine, the situation is 
not essentially different from that which arises when 
I give an order to a person. In other words, as far as my 
consciousness goes I am aware of the order that has 
gone out and of the signal of compliance that has come 
back. To me, personally, the fact that the signal in its 
intermediate stages has gone through a machine rather 
than through a person is irrelevant and does not in any 
case greatly change my relation to the signal. Thus the 
theory of control in engineering, whether human or 



animal or mechanical, is a chapter in the theory of 

Naturally there are detailed differences in messages 
and in problems of control, not only between a living 
organism and a machine, but within each narrower 
class of beings. It is the purpose of Cybernetics to de- 
velop a language and techniques that will enable us 
indeed to attack the problem of control and communi- 
cation in general, but also to find the proper repertory 
of ideas and techniques to classify their particular 
manifestations under certain concepts. 

The commands through which we exercise our con- 
trol over our environment are a kind of information 
which we impart to it. Like any form of information, 
these commands are subject to disorganization in 
transit. They generally come through in less coherent 
fashion and certainly not more coherently than they 
were sent. In control and communication we are always 
fighting nature's tendency to degrade the organized 
and to destroy the meaningful; the tendency, as Gibbs 
has shown us, for entropy to increase. 

Much of this book concerns the limits of communi- 
cation within and among individuals. Man is immersed 
in a world which he perceives through his sense organs. 
Information that he receives is co-ordinated through 
his brain and nervous system until, after the proper 
process of storage, collation, and selection, it emerges 
through effector organs, generally his muscles. These 
in turn act on the external world, and also react on the 
central nervous system through receptor organs such 
as the end organs of kinaesthesia; and the information 
received by the kinaesthetic organs is combined with 
his already accumulated store of information to in- 
fluence future action. 

Information is a name for the content of what is 
exchanged with the outer world as we adjust to it, 
and make our adjustment felt upon it. The process of 
receiving and of using information is the process of 


our adjusting to the contingencies of the outer environ- 
ment, and of our living effectively within that environ- 
ment. The needs and the complexity of modern life 
make greater demands on this process of information 
than ever before, and our press, our museums, our 
scientific laboratories, our universities, our libraries and 
textbooks, are obliged to meet the needs of this process 
or fail in their purpose. To live effectively is to live 
with adequate information. Thus, communication and 
control belong to the essence of man's inner life, even 
as they belong to his life in society. 

The place of the study of communication in the his- 
tory of science is neither trivial, fortuitous, nor new. 
Even before Newton such problems were current in 
physics, especially in the work of Fermat, Huygens, 
and Leibnitz, each of whom shared an interest in 
physics whose focus was not mechanics but optics, the 
communication of visual images. 

Fermat furthered the study of optics with his prin- 
ciple of minimization which says that over any suffi- 
ciently short part of its course, light follows the path 
which it takes the least time to traverse. Huygens de- 
veloped the primitive form of what is now known as 
"Huygens' Principle" by saying that light spreads from 
a source by forming around that source something like 
a small sphere consisting of secondary sources which 
in turn propagate light just as the primary sources do. 
Leibnitz, in the meantime, saw the whole world as a 
collection of beings called "monads" whose activity 
consisted in the perception of one another on the basis 
of a pre-established harmony laid down by God, and it 
is fairly clear that he thought of this interaction largely 
in optical terms. Apart from this perception, the mon- 
ads had no "windows," so that in his view all mechan- 
ical interaction really becomes nothing more than a 
subtle consequence of optical interaction. 

A preoccupation with optics and with message, 
which is apparent in this part of Leibnitz's philosophy, 



runs through its whole texture. It plays a large part in 
two of his most original ideas: that of the Character- 
istica Universalis, or universal scientific language, and 
that of the Calculus Ratiocinator, or calculus qfjqgic. 
This Calculus Ratiocinator, imperfect as it was, was 
the direct ancestor of modern mathematical logic. 

Leibnitz, dominated by ideas of communication, is, 
in more than one way, the intellectual ancestor of the 
ideas of this book, for he was also interested in machine 
computation and in automata. My views in this book are 
very far from being Leibnitzian, but the problems with 
which I am concerned are most certainly Leibnitzian. 
Leibnitz's computing machines were only an offshoot 
of his interest in a computing language, a reasoning 
calculus which again was in his mind, merely an ex- 
tention of his idea of a complete artificial language. 
Thus, even in his computing machine, Leibnitz's pre- 
occupations were mostly linguistic and communica- 

Toward the middle of the last century, the work of 
Clerk Maxwell and of his precursor, Faraday, had at- 
tracted the attention of physicists once more to optics, 
the science of light, which was now regarded as a form 
of electricity that could be reduced to the mechanics 
of a curious, rigid, but invisible medium known as the 
ether, which, at the time, was supposed to permeate 
the atmosphere, interstellar space and all transparent 
materials. Clerk Maxwell's work on optics consisted in 
the mathematical development of ideas which had 
been previously expressed in a cogent but non-mathe- 
matical form by Faraday. The study of ether raised 
certain questions whose answers were obscure, as, for 
example, that of the motion of matter through the ether. 
The famous experiment of Michelson and Morley, in 
the nineties, was undertaken to resolve this problem, 
and it gave the entirely unexpected answer that there 
simply was no way to determine the motion of matter 
through the ether. 


The first satisfactory solution to the problems aroused 
by this experiment was that of Lorentz, who pointed 
out that if the forces holding matter together were con- 
ceived as being themselves electrical or optical in 
nature, we should expect a negative result from the 
Michelson-Morley experiment. However, Einstein in 
1905 translated these ideas of Lorentz into a form in 
which the unobservability of absolute motion was rather 
a postulate of physics than the result of any particular 
structure of matter. For our purposes, the important 
thing is that in Einstein's work, light and matter are 
on an equal basis, as they had been in the writings 
before Newton; without the Newtonian subordination 
of everything else to matter and mechanics. 

In explaining his views, Einstein makes abundant 
use of the observer who may be at rest or may be 
moving. In his theory of relativity it is impossible to 
introduce the observer without also introducing the 
idea of message, and without, in fact, returning the 
emphasis of physics to a quasi-Leibnitzian state, whose 
tendency is once again optical. Einstein's theory of rel- 
ativity and Gibbs' statistical mechanics are in sharp 
contrast, in that Einstein, like Newton, is still talking 
primarily in terms of an absolutely rigid dynamics not 
introducing the idea of probability. Gibbs' work, on 
the other hand, is probabilistic from the very start, yet 
both directions of work represent a shift in the point 
of view of physics in which the world as it actually 
exists is replaced in some sense or other by the world 
as it happens to be observed, and the old naive realism 
of physics gives Way to something on which Bishop 
Berkeley might have smiled with pleasure. 

At this point it is appropriate for us to review certain 
notions pertaining to entropy which have already been 
presented in the introduction. As we have said, the 
> jdea of entropy represents several of the most impor- 
tant departures of Gibbsian mechanics from New- 
tonian mechanics. In Gibbs' view we have a physical 



quantity which belongs not to the outside world as 
such, but to certain sets of possible outside worlds, and 
therefore to the answer to certain specific questions 
which we can ask concerning the outside world. 
Physics now becomes not the discussion of an outside 
universe which may be regarded as the total answer 
to all the questions concerning it, but an account of 
the answers to much more limited questions. In fact, 
we are now no longer concerned with the study of all 
possible outgoing and incoming messages which we 
may send and receive, but with the theory of much 
more specific outgoing and incoming messages; and it 
involves a measurement of the no-longer infinite amount 
of information that they yield us. 

Messages are themselves a form of pattern and or- 
ganization. Indeed, it is possible to treat sets of mes- 
sages as having an entropy like sets of states of the 
external world. Just as entropy is a measure of disor- 
ganization, the information carried by a set of mes- 
sages is a measure of organization. In fact, it is possible 
to interpret the information carried by a message as 
essentially the negative of its entropy, and the negative 
logarithm of its probability. That is, the more probable 
the message, the less information it gives. Cliches, for 
example, are less illuminating than great poems. 

I have already referred to Leibnitz's interest in 
automata, an interest incidentally shared by his con- 
temporary, Pascal, who made real contributions to the 
development of what we now know as the desk adding- 
machine. Leibnitz saw in the concordance of the time 
given by clocks set at the same time, the model for the 
pre-established harmony of his monads. For the tech- 
nique embodied in the automata of his time was that of 
the clockmaker. Let us consider the activity of the little 
figures which dance on the top of a music box. They 
move in accordance with a pattern, but it is a pattern 
which is set in advance, and in which the past activity 
of the figures has practically nothing to do with the 


pattern of their future activity. The probability that 
they will diverge from this pattern is nil. There is a 
message, indeed; but it goes from the machinery of 
the music box to the figures, and stops there. The fig- 
ures themselves have no trace of communication with 
the outer world, except this one-way stage of communi- 
cation with the pre-established mechanism of the music 
box. They are blind, deaf, and dumb, and cannot vary 
their activity in the least from the conventionalized 

Contrast with them the behavior of man, or indeed 
of any moderately intelligent animal such as a kitten. 
I call to the kitten and it looks up. I have sent it a 
message which it has received by its sensory organs, 
and which it registers in action. The kitten is hungry 
and lets out a pitiful wail. This time it is the sender of 
a message. The kitten bats at a swinging spool. The 
spool swings to its left, and the kitten catches it with 
its left paw. This time messages of a very complicated 
nature are both sent and received within the kitten's 
own nervous system through certain nerve end-bodies 
in its joints, muscles, and tendons; and by means of 
nervous messages sent by these organs, the animal is 
aware of the actual position and tensions of its tissues. 
It is only through these organs that anything like a 
manual skill is possible. 

I have contrasted the prearranged behavior of the 
little figures on the music box on the one hand, and the 
contingent behavior of human beings and animals on 
the other. But we must not suppose that the music box 
is typical of all machine behavior. 

The older machines, and in particular the older at- 
tempts to produce automata, did in fact function on a 
closed clockwork basis. But modern automatic ma- 
chines such as the controlled missile, the proximity 
fuse, the automatic door opener, the control apparatus 
for a chemical factory, and the rest of the modern 
armory of automatic machines which perform military 



or industrial functions, possess sense organs; that is, 
receptors for messages coming from the outside. These 
may be as simple as photoelectric cells which change 
electrically when a light falls on them, and which can 
tell light from dark, or as complicated as a television 
set. They may measure a tension by the change it pro- 
duces in the conductivity of a wire exposed to it, or 
they may measure temperature by means of a thermo- 
couple, which is an instrument consisting of two dis- 
tinct metals in contact with one another through which 
a current flows when one of the points of contact is 
heated. Every instrument in the repertory of the 
scientific-instrument maker is a possible sense organ, 
and may be made to record its reading remotely 
through the intervention of appropriate electrical ap- 
paratus. Thus the machine which is conditioned by 
its relation to the external world, and by the things 
happening in the external world, is with us and has 
been with us for some time. 

The machine which acts on the external world by 
means of messages is also familiar. The automatic photo- 
electric door opener is known to every person who has 
passed through the Pennsylvania Station in New York, 
and is used in many other buildings as well. When a 
message consisting of the interception of a beam of 
light is sent to the apparatus, this message actuates the 
door, and opens it so that the passenger may go through. 

The steps between the actuation of a machine of 
this type by sense organs and its performance of a 
task may be as simple as in the case of the electric 
door; or it may be in fact of any desired degree of 
complexity within the limits of our engineering tech- 
niques. A complex action is one in which the data 
introduced, which we call the input, to obtain an effect 
on the outer world, which we call the output, may 
involve a large number of combinations. These are 
combinations, both of the data put in at the moment 
and of the records taken from the past stored data 


which we call the memory. These are recorded in the 
machine. The most complicated machines yet made 
which transform input data into output data are the 
high-speed electrical computing machines, of which I 
shall speak later in more detail. The determination of 
the mode of conduct of these machines is given through 
a special sort of input, which frequently consists of 
punched cards or tapes or of magnetized wires, and 
which determines the way in which the machine is go- 
ing to act in one operation, as distinct from the way in 
which it might have acted in another. Because of the 
frequent use of punched or magnetic tape in the con- 
trol, the data which are fed in, and which indicate the 
mode of operation of one of these machines for combin- 
ing information, are called the taping. 

I have said that man and the animal have a kin- 
aesthetic sense, by which they keep a record of the 
position and tensions of their muscles. For any machine 
subject to a varied external environment to act effec- 
tively it is necessary that information concerning the 
results of its own action be furnished to it as part of the 
information on which it must continue to act. For ex- 
ample, if we are running an elevator, it is not enough 
to open the outside door because the orders we have 
given should make the elevator be at that door at the 
time we open it. It is important that the release for 
opening the door be dependent on the fact that the 
elevator is actually at the door; otherwise something 
might have detained it, and the passenger might step 
into the empty shaft. This control of a machine on the 
basis of its actual performance rather than its expected 
performance is known as feedback, and involves sen- 
sory members which are actuated by motor members 
and perform the function of tell-tales or monitors— 
that is, of elements which indicate a performance. It 
is the function of these mechanisms to control the me- 
chanical tendency toward disorganization; in other 



words, to produce a temporary and local reversal of 
the normal direction of entropy. 

I have just mentioned the elevator as an example of 
feedback. There are other cases where the importance 
of feedback is even more apparent. For example, a 
gun-pointer takes information from his instruments of 
observation, and conveys it to the gun, so that the 
latter will point in such a direction that the missile will 
pass through the moving target at a certain time. Now, 
the gun itself must be used under all conditions of 
weather. In some of these the grease is warm, and the 
gun swings easily and rapidly. Under other conditions 
the grease is frozen or mixed with sand, and the gun 
is slow to answer the orders given to it. If these orders 
are reinforced by an extra push given when the gun 
fails to respond easily to the orders and lags behind 
them, then the error of the gun-pointer will be de- 
creased. To obtain a performance as uniform as pos- 
sible, it is customary to put into the gun a control feed- 
back element which reads the lag of the gun behind 
the position it should have according to the orders 
given it, and which uses this difference to give the gun 
an extra push. 

It is true that precautions must be taken so that the 
push is not too hard, for if it is, the gun will swing past 
its proper position, and will have to be pulled back in a 
series of oscillations, which may well become wider 
and wider, and lead to a disastrous instability. If the 
feedback system is itself controlled— if, in other words, 
its own entropic tendencies are checked by still other 
controlling mechanisms— and kept within limits suffi- 
ciently stringent, this will not occur, and the existence 
of the feedback will increase the stability of perform- 
ance of the gun. In other words, the performance will 
become less dependent on the frictional load; or what 
is the same thing, on the drag created by the stiffness 
of the grease. 

Something very similar to this occurs in human action. 


If I pick up my cigar, I do not will to move any specific 
muscles. Indeed in many cases, I do not know what 
those muscles are. What I do is to turn into action a 
certain feedback mechanism; namely, a reflex in which 
the amount by which I have yet failed to pick up the 
cigar is turned into a new and increased order to the 
lagging muscles, whichever they may be. In this way, 
a fairly uniform voluntary command will enable the 
same task to be performed from widely varying ini- 
tial positions, and irrespective of the decrease of con- 
traction due to fatigue of the muscles. Similarly, when 
I drive a car, I do not follow out a series of commands 
dependent simply on a mental image of the road and 
the task I am doing. If I find the car swerving too much 
to the right, that causes me to pull it to the left. This 
depends on the actual performance of the car, and not 
simply on the road; and it allows me to drive with 
nearly equal efficiency a light Austin or a heavy truck, 
without having formed separate habits for the driving 
of the two. I shall have more to say about this in the 
chapter in this book on special machines, where we 
shall discuss the service that can be done to neuropa- 
thology by the study of machines with defects in per- 
formance similar to those occurring in the human 

It is my thesis that the physical functioning of the 
living individual and the operation of some of the newer 
communication machines are precisely parallel in their 
analogous attempts to control entropy through feed- 
back. Both of them have sensory receptors as one stage 
in their cycle of operation: that is, in both of them 
there exists a special apparatus for collecting infor- 
mation from the outer world at low energy levels, and 
for making it available in the operation of the individ- 
ual or of the machine. In both cases these external 
messages are not taken neat, but through the internal 
transforming powers of the apparatus, whether it be 
alive or dead. The information is then turned into a 



new form available for the further stages of perform- 
ance. In both the animal and the machine this per- 
formance is made to be effective on the outer world. 
In both of them, their performed action on the outer 
world, and not merely their intended action, is re- 
ported back to the central regulatory apparatus. This 
complex of behavior is ignored by the average man, 
and in particular does not play the role that it should 
in our habitual analysis of society; for just as individ- 
ual physical responses may be seen from this point of 
view, so may the organic responses of society itself. I 
do not mean that the sociologist is unaware of the ex- 
istence and complex nature of communications in 
society, but until recently he has tended to overlook the 
extent to which they are the cement which binds its 
fabric together. 

We have seen in this chapter the fundamental unity 
of a complex of ideas which until recently had not 
been sufficiently associated with one another, namely, 
the contingent view of physics that Gibbs introduced 
as a modification of the traditional, Newtonian con- 
ventions, the Augustinian attitude toward order and 
conduct which is demanded by this view, and the 
theory of the message among men, machines, and in 
society as a sequence of events in time which, though 
it itself has a certain contingency, strives to hold back 
nature's tendency toward disorder by adjusting its 
parts to various purposive ends. 


As we have said, nature's statistical tendency to dis- 
order, the tendency for entropy to increase in isolated 
systems, is expressed by the second law of thermo- 
dynamics. We, as human beings, are not isolated sys- 
tems. We take in food, which generates energy, from 
the outside, and are, as a result, parts of that larger 
world which contains those sources of our vitality. But 
even more important is the fact that we take in in- 
formation through our sense organs, and we act on in- 
formation received. 

Now the physicist is already familiar with the signif? 
icance of this statement as far as it concerns our re- 
lations with the environment. A brilliant expression of 
the roie of information in this respect is provided by 
Clerk Maxwell, in the form of the so-called "Maxwell 
demon," which we may describe as follows. 

Suppose that we have a container of gas, whose tem- 
perature is everywhere the same. Some molecules of 
this gas will be moving faster than others. Now let us 
suppose that there is a little door in the container that 
lets the gas into a tube which runs to a heat engine, 
and that the exhaust of this heat engine is connected 
by another tube back to the gas chamber, through an- 
other door. At each door there is a little being with the 
power of watching the on-coming molecules and of 
opening or closing the doors in accordance with their 

The demon at the first door opens it only for high- 
speed molecules and closes it in the face of low-speed 



molecules coming from the container. The role of the 
demon at the second door is exactly the opposite: he 
opens the door only for low-speed molecules coming 
from the container and closes it in the face of high- 
speed molecules. The result is that the temperature 
goes up at one end and down at the other thus creating 
a perpetual motion of "the second kind": that is, a 
perpetual motion which does not violate the first law 
of thermodynamics, which tells us that the amount of 
energy within a given system is constant, but does 
violate the second law of thermodynamics, which tells 
us that energy spontaneously runs down hill in tem- 
perature. In other words, the Maxwell demon seems to 
overcome the tendency of entropy to increase. 

Perhaps I can illustrate this idea still further by con- 
sidering a crowd milling around in a subway at two 
turnstiles, one of which will only let people out if they 
are observed to be running at a certain speed, and the 
other of which will only let people out if they are 
moving slowly. The fortuitous movement of the people 
in the subway will show itself as a stream of fast-moving 
people coming from the first turnstile, whereas the sec- 
ond turnstile will only let through slow-moving people. 
If these two turnstiles are connected by a passageway 
with a treadmill in it, the fast-moving people will have 
a greater tendency to turn the treadmill in one direc- 
tion than the slow people to turn it in the other, and we 
shall gather a source of useful energy in the fortuitous 
milling around of the crowd. 

Here there emerges a very interesting distinction 
between the physics of our grandfathers and that of 
the present day. In nineteenth century physics, it 
seemed to cost nothing to get information. The result is 
that there is nothing in Maxwell's physics to prevent 
one of his demons from furnishing its own power source. 
Modern physics, however, recognizes that the demon 
can only gain the information with which it opens or 
closes the door from something like a sense organ 



which for these purposes is an eye. The light that 
strikes the demon's eye is not an energy-less supple- 
ment of mechanical motion, but shares in the main 
properties of mechanical motion itself. Light cannot be 
received by any instrument unless it hits it, and cannot 
indicate the position of any particle unless it hits the 
particle as well. This means, then, that even from a 
purely mechanical point of view we cannot consider 
the gas chamber as containing mere gas, but rather gas 
and light which may or may not be in equilibrium. If 
the gas and the light are in equilibrium, it can be shown 
as a consequence of present physical doctrine that the 
Maxwell demon will be as blind as if there were no 
light at all. We shall have a cloud of light coming from 
every direction, giving no indication of the position and 
momenta of the gas particles. Therefore the Maxwell 
demon will work only in a system that is not in equi- 
librium. In such a system, however, it will turn out 
that the constant collision between light and gas par- 
ticles tends to bring the light and particles to an equi- 
librium. Thus while the demon may temporarily re- 
verse the usual direction of entropy, ultimately it too 
will wear down. 

The Maxwell demon can work indefinitely only if 
additional light comes from outside the system and 
does not correspond in temperature to the mechanical 
temperature of the particles themselves. This is a 
situation which should be perfectly familiar to us, be- 
cause we see the universe around us reflecting light 
from the sun, which is very far from being in equi- 
librium with mechanical systems on the earth. Strictly 
speaking, we are confronting particles whose temper- 
ature is 50 or 60° F. with a light which comes from a 
sun at many thousands of degrees. 

In a system which is not in equilibrium, or in part 
of such a system, entropy need not increase. It may, 
in fact, decrease locally. Perhaps this non-equilibrium 
of the world about us is merely a stage in a downhill 


course which will ultimately lead to equilibrium. Sooner 
or later we shall die, and it is highly probable that the 
whole universe around us will die the heat death, in 
which the world shall be reduced to one vast temper- 
ature equilibrium in which nothing really new ever 
happens. There will be nothing left but a drab uni- 
formity out of which we can expect only minor and ,/' 
insignificant local fluctuations. 

But we are not yet spectators at the last stages of 
the world's death. In fact these last stages can have 
no spectators. Therefore, in the world with which we 
are immediately concerned there are stages which, 
though they occupy an insignificant fraction of eter- 
nity, are of great significance for our purposes, for in 
them entropy does not increase and organization and 
its correlative, information, are being built up. 

What I have said about these enclaves of increasing 
organization is not confined merely to organization as 
exhibited by living beings. Machines also contribute 
to a local and temporary building up of information, 
notwithstanding their crude and imperfect organiza- 
tion compared with that of ourselves. 

Here I want to interject the semantic point that such 
words as life, purpose, and soul are grossly inadequate 
to precise scientific thinking. These terms have gained 
their significance through our recognition of the unity 
of a certain group of phenomena, and do not in fact 
furnish us with any adequate basis to characterize this 
unity. Whenever we find a new phenomenon which 
partakes to some degree of the nature of those which 
we have already termed "living phenomena," but does 
not conform to all the associated aspects which define 
the term "life," we are faced with the problem whether 
to enlarge the word "life" so as to include them, or 
to define it in a more restrictive way so as to exclude 
them. We have encountered this problem in the past 
in considering viruses, which show some of the tend- 
encies of life— to persist, to multiply, and to organize— 


but do not express these tendencies in a fully-devel- 
oped form. Now that certain analogies of behavior are 
being observed between the machine and the living 
organism, the problem as to whether the machine is 
alive or not is, for our purposes, semantic and we are 
at liberty to answer it one way or the other as best suits 
our convenience. As Humpty Dumpty says about some 
of his more remarkable words, "I pay them extra, and 
make them do what I want." 

If we wish to use the word "life" to cover all phe- 
nomena which locally swim upstream against the 
current of increasing entropy, we are at liberty to do 
so. However, we shall then include many astronomical 
phenomena which have only the shadiest resemblance 
to life as we ordinarily know it. It is in my opinion, 
therefore, best to avoid all question-begging epithets 
such as "life," "soul," "vitalism," and the like, and say 
merely in connection with machines that there is no 
reason why they may not resemble human beings in 
representing pockets of decreasing entropy in a frame- 
work in which the large entropy tends to increase. 

When I compare the living organism with such a 
machine, I do not for a moment mean that the specific 
physical, chemical, and spiritual processes of life as we 
ordinarily know it are the same as those of life-imitat- 
ing machines. I mean simply that they both can exem- 
plify locally anti-entropic processes, which perhaps 
may also be exemplified in many other ways which we 
should naturally term neither biological nor mechani- 

While it is impossible to make any universal state- 
ments concerning life-imitating automata in a field 
which is growing as rapidly as that of automatization, 
there are some general features of these machines as 
they actually exist that I should like to emphasize. One 
is that they are machines to perform some definite task 
or tasks, and therefore must possess effector organs 
(analogous to arms and legs in human beings) with 



which such tasks can be performed. The second point 
is that they must be en rapport with the outer world 
by sense organs, such as photoelectric cells and ther- 
mometers, which not only tell them what the existing 
circumstances are, but enable them to record the per- 
formance or nonperformance of their own tasks. This 
last function, as we have seen, is called feedback, the 
property of being able to adjust future conduct by past 
performance. Feedback may be as simple as that of the 
common reflex, or it may be a higher order feedback, 
in which past experience is used not only to regulate 
specific movements, but also whole policies of be- 
havior. Such a policy-feedback may, and often does, 
appear to be what we know under one aspect as a 
conditioned reflex, and under another as learning. 

For all these forms of behavior, and particularly for 
the more complicated ones, we must have central de- 
cision organs which determine what the machine is to 
do next on the basis of information fed back to it, which 
it stores by means analogous to the memory of a living 

It is easy to make a simple machine which will run 
toward the light or run away from it, and if such ma- 
chines also contain lights of their own, a number of 
them together will show complicated forms of social 
behavior such as have been described by Dr. Grey 
Walter in his book, The Living Brain. At present the 
more complicated machines of this type are nothing 
but scientific toys for the exploration of the possibil- 
ities of the machine itself and of its analogue, the nerv- 
ous system. But there is reason to anticipate that the 
developing technology of the near future will use some 
of these potentialities. 

Thus the nervous system and the automatic machine 
are fundamentally alike in that they are devices which 
make decisions on the basis of decisions they have 
made in the past. The simplest mechanical devices will 
make decisions between two alternatives, such as the 


closing or opening of a switch. In the nervous system, 
the individual nerve fiber also decides between carry- 
ing an impulse or not. In both the machine and the 
nerve, there is a specific apparatus for making future 
decisions depend on past decisions, and in the nervous 
system a large part of this task is done at those ex- 
tremely complicated points called "synapses" where a 
number of incoming nerve fibers connect with a single 
outgoing nerve fiber. In many cases it is possible to 
state the basis of these decisions as a threshold of action 
of the synapse, or in other words, by telling how many 
incoming fibers should fire in order that the outgoing 
fibers may fire. 

This is the basis of at least part of the analogy be- 
tween machines and living organisms. The synapse in 
the living organism corresponds to the switching de- 
vice in the machine. For further development of the 
detailed relationship between machines and living 
organisms, one should consult the extremely inspiring 
books of Dr. Walter and Dr. W. Ross Ashby. 1 

The machine, like the living organism, is, as I have 
said, a device which locally and temporarily seems to 
resist the general tendency for the increase of entropy. 
By its ability to make decisions it can produce around 
it a local zone of organization in a world whose general 
tendency is to run down. 

The scientist is always working to discover the order 
and organization of the universe, and is thus playing 
a game against the arch enemy, disorganization. Is this 
devil Manichaean or Augustinian? Is it a contrary force 
opposed to order or is it the very absence of order 
itself? The difference between these two sorts of demons 
will make itself apparent in the tactics to be used 
against them. The Manichaean devil is an opponent, 

1 W. Ross Ashby, Design for a Brain, Wiley, New York, 
1952, and W. Grey Walter, The Living Brain, Norton, New 
York, 1953. 



like any other opponent, who is determined on victory 
and will use any trick of craftiness or dissimulation to 
obtain this victory. In particular, he will keep his policy 
of confusion secret, and if we show any signs of be- 
ginning to discover his policy, he will change it in order 
to keep us in the dark. On the other hand, the Augus- 
tinian devil, which is not a power in itself, but the 
measure of our own weakness, may require our full 
resources to uncover, but when we have uncovered it, 
we have in a certain sense exorcised it, and it will not 
alter its policy on a matter already decided with the 
mere intention of confounding us further. The Man- 
ichaean devil is playing a game of poker against us 
and will resort readily to bluffing; which, as von Neu- 
mann explains in his Theory of Games, is intended not 
merely to enable us to win on a bluff, but to prevent the 
other side from winning on the basis of a certainty 
that we will not bluff. 

Compared to this Manichaean being of refined mal- 
ice, the Augustinian devil is stupid. He plays a difficult 
game, but he may be defeated by our intelligence as 
thoroughly as by a sprinkle of holy water. 

As to the nature of the devil, we have an aphorism 
of Einstein's which is more than an aphorism, and is 
really a statement concerning the foundations of scien- 
tific method. "The Lord is subtle, but he isn't simply 
mean." Here the word "Lord" is used to describe those 
forces in nature which include what we have attri- 
buted to his very humble servant, the Devil, and 
Einstein means to say that these forces do not bluff. 
Perhaps this devil is not far in meaning from Mephi- 
stopheles. When Faust asked Mephistopheles what he 
was, Mephistopheles replied, "A part of that force 
which always seeks evil and always does good." In 
other words, the devil is not unlimited in his ability 
to deceive, and the scientist who looks for a positive 
force determined to confuse us in the universe which 
he is investigating is wasting his time. Nature offers 


resistance to decoding, but it does not show ingenuity 
in finding new and undecipherable methods for jam- 
ming our communication with the outer world. 

This distinction between the passive resistance of 
nature and the active resistance of an opponent sug- 
gests a distinction between the research scientist and 
the warrior or the game player. The research physicist 
has all the time in the world to carry out his experi- 
ments, and he need not fear that nature will in time 
discover his tricks and method and change her policy. 
Therefore, his work is governed by his best moments, 
whereas a chess player cannot make one mistake with- 
out finding an alert adversary ready to take advantage 
of it and to defeat him. Thus the chess player is gov- 
erned more by his worst moments than by his best 
moments. I may be prejudiced about this claim: for I 
have found it possible myself to do effective work in 
science, while my chess has been continually vitiated 
by my carelessness at critical instants. 

The scientist is thus disposed to regard his opponent 
as an honorable enemy. This attitude is necessary for 
his effectiveness as a scientist, but tends to make him 
the dupe of unprincipled people in war and in politics. 
It also has the effect of making it hard for the general 
public to understand him, for the general public is 
much more concerned with personal antagonists than 
with nature as an antagonist. 

We are immersed in a life in which the world as a 
whole obeys the 

fusion increases and order decreases. Yet, as we have 
seen, the second law of thermodynamics, while it may 
be a valid statement about the whole of a closed 
system, is definitely not valid concerning a non-isolated 
part of it. There are local and temporary islands of 
decreasing entropy in a world in which the entropy as 
a whole tends to increase, and the existence of these is- 
lands enables some of us to assert the existence of prog- 
ress. What can we say about the general direction of 



the battle between progress and increasing entropy in 
the world immediately about us? 

The Enlightenment, as we all know, fostered the 
idea of progress, even though there were among the 
men of the eighteenth century some who felt that this 
progress was subject to a law of diminishing returns, 
and that the Golden Age of society would not differ 
very much from what they saw about them. The crack 
in the fabric of the Enlightenment, marked by the 
French Revolution, was accompanied by doubts of 
progress elsewhere. Malthus, for example, sees the cul- 
ture of his age about to sink into the slough of an un- 
controlled increase in population, swallowing up all 
the gains so far made by humanity. 

The line of intellectual descent from Malthus to Dar- 
win is clear. Darwin's great innovation in the theory of 
evolution was that he conceived of it not as a 
Lamarckian spontaneous ascent from higher to higher 
and from better to better, but as a phenomenon in 
which living beings showed (a) a spontaneous tend- 
ency to develop in many directions, and (b) a tend- 
ency to follow the pattern of their ancestors. The 
combination of these two effects was to prune an over- 
lush developing nature and to deprive it of those or- 
ganisms which were ill-adapted to their environment, 
by a process of "natural selection." The result of this 
pruning was to leave a residual pattern of forms of 
life more or less well adapted to their environment. 
This residual pattern, according to Darwin, assumes 
the appearance of universal purposiveness. 

The concept of a residual pattern has come to the 
fore again in the work of Dr. W. Ross Ashby. He uses 
it to explain the concept of machines that learn. He 
points out that a machine of rather random and hap- 
hazard structure will have certain near-equilibrium 
positions, and certain positions far from equilibrium, 
and that the near-equilibrium patterns will by their 
very nature last for a long time, while the others will 


appear only temporarily. The result is that in Ashby's 
machine, as in Darwin's nature, we have the appear- 
ance of a purposefulness in a system which is not pur- 
posefully constructed simply because purposelessness 
is in its very nature transitory. Of course, in the long 
run, the great trivial purpose of maximum entropy will 
appear to be the most enduring of all. But in the in- 
termediate stages an organism or a society of organ- 
isms will tend to dally longer in those modes of activity 
in which the different parts work together, according to 
a more or less meaningful pattern. 

I believe that Ashby's brilliant idea of the unpur- 
poseful random mechanism which seeks for its own 
purpose through a process of learning is not only one of 
the great philosophical contributions of the present 
day, but will lead to highly useful technical develop- 
ments in the task of automatization. Not only can we 
build purpose into machines, but in an overwhelming 
majority of cases a machine designed to avoid certain 
pitfalls of breakdown will look for purposes which it 
can fulfill. 

Darwin's influence on the idea of progress was not 
confined to the biological world, even in the nineteenth 
century. All philosophers and all sociologists draw their 
scientific ideas from the sources available at their time. 
Thus it is not surprising to find that Marx and his con- 
temporary socialists accepted a Darwinian point of 
view in the matter of evolution and progress. 

In physics, the idea of progress opposes that of en- 
tropy, although there is no absolute contradiction be- 
tween the two. In the forms of physics directly de- 
pendent on the work of Newton, the information which 
contributes to progress and is directed against the in- 
crease of entropy may be carried by extremely small 
quantities of energy, or perhaps even by no energy at 
all. This view has been altered in the present century 
by the innovation in physics known as quantum theory. 
^Quantum theory has led, for our purposes, to a new 



association of energy and information. A crude form 
of this association occurs in the theories of line noise 
in a telephone circuit or an amplifier. Such, back- 
ground noise may be shown to be unavoidable, as it 
depends on the discrete character of the electrons 
which carry the current; and yet it has a d efinite power 
of destroying information. The circuit therefore de- 
mands a certain amount of communication power in 
order that the message may not be swamped by its 
own energy. More fundamental than this example is 
the fact that light itself has an atomic structure, and 
that light of a given frequency is radiated in lumps 
which are known as light quanta, which have a deter- 
mined energy dependent on that frequency. Thus 
there can be no radiation of less energy than a single 
light quantum. The transfer of information cannot take 
place without a certain expenditure of energy, so that 
there is no sharp boundary between energetic coupling 
and informational coupling. Nevertheless, for most 
practical purposes, a light quantum is a very small 
thing; and the amount of energy transfer which is nec- 
essary for an effective informational coupling is quite 
small. It follows that in considering such a local process 
as the growth of a tree or of a human being, which 
depends directly or indirectly on radiation from the 
sun, an enormous local decrease in entropy may be 
associated with quite a moderate energy transfer. This 
is one of the fundamental facts of biology; and in par- 
ticular of the theory of photosynthesis, or of the chem- 
ical process by which a plant is enabled to use the sun's 
rays to form starch, and other complicated chemicals 
necessary for life, out of the water and the carbon 
dioxide of the air. 

Thus the question of whether to interpret the second 
law of thermodynamics pessimistically or not depends 
on the importance we give to the universe at large, on 
the one hand, and to the islands of locally decreasing 
entropy which we find in it, on the other. Remember 


that we ourselves constitute such an island of decrease- 
ing entropy, and that we live among other such islands. 
The result is that the normal prospective difference 
between the near and the remote leads us to give far 
greater importance to the regions of decreasing en- 
tropy and increasing order than to the universe at 
large. For example, it may very well be that life is a 
rare phenomenon in the universe; confined perhaps to 
the solar system, or even, if we consider life on any 
level comparable to that in which we are principally 
interested, to the earth alone. Nevertheless, we live on 
this earth, and the possible absence of life elsewhere 
in the universe is of no great concern to us, and cer- 
tainly of no concern proportionate to the overwhelm- 
ing size of the remainder of the universe. 

Again, it is quite conceivable that life belongs to a 
limited stretch of time; that before the earliest geolog- 
ical ages it did not exist, and that the time may well 
come when the earth is again a lifeless, burnt-out, or 
frozen planet. To those of us who are aware of the 
extremely limited range of physical conditions under 
which the chemical reactions necessary to life as we 
know it can take place, it is a foregone conclusion that 
the lucky accident which permits the continuation of 
life in any form on this earth, even without restricting 
life to something like human life, is bound to come to 
a complete and disastrous end. Yet we may succeed in 
framing our values so that this temporary accident of 
living existence, and this much more temporary acci- 
dent of human existence, may be taken as all-important 
positive values, notwithstanding their fugitive charac- 

In a very real sense we are shipwrecked passengers 
on a doomed planet. Yet even in a shipwreck, human 
decencies and human values do not necessarily vanish, 
and we must make the most of them. We shall go down, 
but let it be in a manner to which we may look forward 
as worthy of our dignity. 



Up to this point we have been talking of a pessimism 
which is much more the intellectual pessimism of the 
professional scientist than an emotional pessimism 
which touches the layman. We have already seen that 
the theory of entropy, and the considerations of the 1 
ultimate heat-death of the universe, need not have 
such profoundly depressing moral consequences as/ 
they seem to have at first glance. However, even this 
limited consideration of the future is foreign to the 
emotional euphoria of the average man, and particu- 
larly to that of the average American. The best we can 
hope for the role of progress in a universe runninjg 
downhill as a whole is that the vision of our attempts 
to progress in the face of overwhelming necessity may 
have the purging terror of Greek tragedy. Yet we live 
in an age not over-receptive to tragedy. 

The education of the average American child of the 
upper middle class is such as to guard him solicitously 
against the awareness of death and doom. He 
is brought up in an atmosphere of Santa Claus; and 
when he learns that Santa Claus is a myth, he cries 
bitterly. Indeed, he never fully accepts the removal of 
this deity from his Pantheon, and spends much of his 
later life in the search for some emotional substitute. 

The fact of individual death, the imminence of ca- 
lamity, are forced upon him by the experiences of his 
later years. Nevertheless, he tries to relegate these un- 
fortunate realities to the role of accidents, and to build 
up a Heaven on Earth in which unpleasantness has no 
place. This Heaven on Earth consists for him in an 
eternal progress, and a continual ascent to Bigger and 
Better Things. 

Our worship of progress may be discussed from two 
points of view: a factual one and an ethical one— that is, 
one which furnishes standards for approval and disap- 
proval. Factually, it asserts that the earlier advance of 
geographical discovery, whose inception corresponds 
to the beginning of modern times, is to be continued 


into an indefinite period of invention, of the discovery 
of new techniques for controlling the human environ- 
ment. This, the believers in progress say, will go on 
and on without any visible termination in a future not 
too remote for human contemplation. Those who up- 
hold the idea of progress as an ethical principle regard 
this unlimited and quasi-spontaneous process of 
change as a Good Thing, and as the basis on which 
they guarantee to future generations a Heaven on 
Earth. It is possible to believe in progress as a fact with- 
out believing in progress as an ethical principle; but in 
the catechism of many Americans, the one goes with 
the other. 

Most of us are too close to the idea of progress to 
take cognizance either of the fact that this belief be- 
longs only to a small part of recorded history, or of the 
other fact, that it represents a sharp break with our 
own religious professions and traditions. Neither for 
the Catholic, the Protestant, nor for the Jew, is the 
world a good place in which an enduring happiness is 
to be expected. The church offers its pay for virtue, not 
in any coin which passes current among the Kings of 
the Earth, but as a promissory note on Heaven. 

In essence, the Calvinist accepts this too, with the 
additional dark note that the Elect of God who shall 
pass the dire final examination of Judgment Day are 
few, and are to be selected by His arbitrary decree. To 
secure this, no virtues on earth, no moral righteousness, 
may be expected to be of the slightest avail. Many a 
good man will be damned. The blessedness which the 
Calvinists do not expect to find for themselves even in 
Heaven, they certainly do not await on earth. 

The Hebrew prophets are far from cheerful in their 
evaluation of the future of mankind, or even of their 
chosen Israel; and the great morality play of Job, while 
it grants him a victory of the spirit, and while the Lord 
deigns to return to him his flocks and his servants and 
his wives, nevertheless gives no assurance that such a 



relatively happy outcome will take place except 
through the arbitrariness of God. 

The Communist, like the believer in progress, looks 
for his Heaven on Earth, rather than as a personal re- 
ward to be drawn on in a post-earthly individual exist- 
ence. Nevertheless, he believes that this Heaven on 
Earth will not come of itself without a struggle. He is 
just as skeptical of the Big Rock Candy Mountains of 
the Future as of the Pie in the Sky when you Die. 
Nor is Islam, whose very name means resignation to 
the will of God, any more receptive to the ideal of prog- 
ress. Of Buddhism, with its hope for Nirvana and a 
release from the external Wheel of Circumstance, I 
need say nothing; it is inexorably opposed to the idea of 
progress, and this is equally true for all the kindred 
religions of India. 

Besides the comfortable passive belief in progress, 
which many Americans shared at the end of the nine- 
teenth century, there is another one which seems to 
have a more masculine, vigorous connotation. To the 
average American, progress means the winning of the 
West. It means the economic anarchy of the frontier, 
and the vigorous prose of Owen Wister and Theodore 
Roosevelt. Historically the frontier is, of course, a per- 
fectly genuine phenomenon. For many years, the de- 
velopment of the United States took place against the 
background of the empty land that always lay further 
to the West. Nevertheless, many of those who have 
waxed poetic concerning this frontier have been prais- 
ers of the past. Already in 1890, the census takes 
cognizance of the end of the true frontier conditions. 
The geographical limits of the great backlog of uncon- 
sumed and unbespoken resources of the country had 
clearly been set. 

It is difficult for the average person to achieve an 
historical perspective in which progress shall have 
been reduced to its proper dimensions. The musket 
with which most of the Civil War was fought was 


only a slight improvement over that carried at Water- 
loo, and that in turn was nearly interchangeable with 
the Brown Bess of Marlborough's army in the Low 
Countries. Nevertheless, hand firearms had existed 
since the fifteenth century or earlier, and cannon more 
than a hundred years earlier still. It is doubtful 
whether the smoothbore musket ever much exceeded 
in range the best of the longbows, and it is certain that 
it never equaled them in accuracy nor in speed of fire; 
yet the longbow is the almost unimproved invention 
of the Stone Age. 

Again, while the art of shipbuilding had by no means 
been completely stagnant, the wooden man-of-war, 
just before it left the seas, was of a pattern which had 
been fairly unchanged in its essentials since the early 
seventeenth century, and which even then displayed 
an ancestry going back many centuries more. One of 
Columbus' sailors would have been a valuable able sea- 
man aboard Farragut's ships. Even a sailor from the 
ship that took Saint Paul to Malta would have been 
quite reasonably at home as a forecastle hand on one of 
Joseph Conrad's barks. A Roman cattleman from the 
Dacian frontier would have made quite a competent 
vaquero to drive longhorn steers from the plains of 
Texas to the terminus of the railroad, although he 
would have been struck with astonishment with what 
he found when he got there. A Babylonian administra- 
tor of a temple estate would have needed no training 
either in bookkeeping or in the handling of slaves to 
run an early Southern plantation. In short, the period 
during which the main conditions of life for the vast 
majority of men have been subject to repeated and 
revolutionary changes had not even begun until the 
Renaissance and the great voyages, and did not as- 
sume anything like the accelerated pace which we now 
take for granted until well into the nineteenth century. 

Under these circumstances, there is no use in looking 
anywhere in earlier history for parallels to the success- 



ful inventions of the steam engine, the steamboat, the 
locomotive, the modern smelting of metals, the tele- 
graph, the transoceanic cable, the introduction of elec- 
tric power, dynamite and the modern high explosive 
missile, the airplane, the electric valve, and the atomic 
bomb. The inventions in metallurgy which heralded 
the origin of the Bronze Age are neither so concen- 
trated in time nor so manifold as to offer a good coun- 
ter-example. It is very well for the classical economist 
to assure us suavely that these changes are purely 
changes in degree, and that changes in degree do not 
vitiate historic parallels. The difference between a 
medicinal dose of strychnine and a fatal one is also only 
one of degree. 

Now, scientific history and scientific sociology are 
based on the notion that the various special cases 
treated have a sufficient similarity for the social mech- 
anisms of one period to be relevant to those of an- 
other. However, it is certainly true that the whole scale 
of phenomena has changed sufficiently since the begin- 
ning of modern history to preclude any easy transfer 
to the present time of political, racial, and economic 
notions derived from earlier stages. What is almost as 
obvious is that the modern period beginning with the 
age of discovery is itself highly heterogeneous. 

In the age of discovery Europe had become aware 
for the first time of the existence of great thinly-settled 
areas capable of taking up a population exceeding that 
of Europe itself; a land full of unexplored resources, 
not only of gold and silver but of the other commodities 
of commerce as well. These resources seemed inex- 
haustible, and indeed on the scale on which the society 
of 1500 moved, their exhaustion and the saturation of 
the population of the new countries were very remote. 
Four hundred and fifty years is farther than most peo- 
ple choose to look ahead. 

However, the existence of the new lands encouraged 
an attitude not unlike that of Alice's Mad Tea Party. 


When the tea and cakes were exhausted at one seat, 
the natural thing for the Mad Hatter and the March 
Hare was to move on and occupy the next seat. When 
Alice inquired what would happen when they came 
around to their original positions again, the March 
Hare changed the subject. To those whose past span 
of history was less than five thousand years and who 
were expecting that the Millennium and the Final Day 
of Judgment might overtake them in far less time, this 
Mad Hatter policy seemed most sensible. As time 
passed, the tea table of the Americas had proved not 
to be inexhaustible; and as a matter of fact, the rate at 
which one seat has been abandoned for the next has 
been increasing at what is probably a still increasing 

What many of us fail to realize is that the last four 
hundred years are a highly special period in the history 
of the world. The pace at which changes during these 
years have taken place is unexampled in earlier his- 
tory, as is the very nature of these changes. This is 
partly the result of increased communication, but also 
of an increased mastery over nature which, on a limited 
planet like the earth, may prove in the long run to be 
an increased slavery to nature. For the more we get 
out of the world the less we leave, and in the long run 
we shall have to pay our debts at a time that may be 
very inconvenient for our own survival. We are the 
slaves of our technical improvement and we can no 
more return a New Hampshire farm to the self-con- 
tained state in which it was maintained in 1800 than 
we can, by taking thought, add a cubit to our stature 
or, what is more to the point, diminish it. We have 
modified our environment so radically that we must 
now modify ourselves in order to exist in this new en- 
vironment. We can no longer live in the old one. Prog- 
ress imposes not only new possibilities for the future 
but new restrictions. It seems almost as if progress it- 
self and our fight against the increase of entropy in- 



trinsically must end in the downhill path from which 
we are trying to escape. Yet this pessimistic sentiment 
is only conditional upon our blindness and inactivity, 
for I am convinced that once we become aware of the 
new needs that a new environment has imposed upon 
us, as well as the new means of meeting these needs 
that are at our disposal, it may be a long time yet be- 
fore our civilization and our human race perish, though 
perish they will even as all of us are born to die. How- 
ever, the prospect of a final death is far from a com- 
plete frustration of life and this is equally true for a 
civilization and for the human race as it is for any of 
its component individuals. May we have the courage to 
face the eventual doom of our civilization as we have 
the courage to face the certainty of our personal doom. 
The simple faith in progress is not a conviction be- 
longing to strength, but one belonging to acquiescence 
and hence to weakness. 



Certain kinds of machines and some living organisms 
—particularly the higher living organisms— can, as we 
have seen, modify their patterns of behavior on the 
basis of past experience so as to achieve specific anti- 
entropic ends. In these higher forms of communicative 
organisms the environment, considered as the past ex- 
perience of the individual, can modify the pattern of 
behavior into one which in some sense or other will 
deal more effectively with the future environment. 
In other words, the organism is not like the clockwork 
monad of Leibnitz with its pre-established harmony 
with the universe, but actually seeks a new equilibrium 
with the universe and its future contingencies. Its pres- 
ent is unlike its past and its future unlike its present. 
In the living organism as in the universe itself, exact 
repetition is absolutely impossible. 

The work of Dr. W. Ross Ashby is probably the great- 
est modern contribution to this subject insofar as it con- 
cerns the analogies between living organisms and 
machines. Learning, like more primitive forms of feed- 
back, is a process which reads differently forward and 
backward in time. The whole conception of the appar- 
ently purposive organism, whether it is mechanical, 
biological, or social, is that of an arrow with a particular 
direction in the stream of time rather than that of a 
line segment facing both ways which we may regard 
as going in either direction. The creature that learns 
is not the mythical amphisbaena of the ancients, with 



a head at each end and no concern with where it is 
going. It moves ahead from a known past into an un- 
known future and this future is not interchangeable 
with that past. 

Let me give still another example of feedback which 
will clarify its function with respect to learning. When 
the great control rooms at the locks of the Panama 
Canal are in use, they are two-way message centers. 
Not only do messages go out controlling the motion of 
the tow locomotives, the opening and closing of the 
sluices, and the opening and closing of the gates; but 
the control room is full of telltales which indicate not 
merely that the locomotives, the sluices, and the gates 
have received their orders, but that they have in fact 
effectively carried out these orders. If this were not the 
case, the lock master might very easily assume that a 
towing locomotive had stopped and might rush the 
huge mass of a battleship into the gates, or might cause 
any one of a number of similar catastrophes to take 

This principle in control applies not merely to the 
Panama locks, but to states, armies, and individual hu- 
man beings. When in the American Revolution, orders 
already drawn up had failed, through carelessness, to 
go from England commanding a British army to march 
down from Canada to meet another British army 
marching up from New York at Saratoga, Burgoyne's 
forces met a catastrophic defeat which a well con- 
ceived program of two-way communications would 
have avoided. It follows that administrative officials, 
whether of a government or a university or a corpora- 
tion, should take part in a two-way stream of communi- 
cation, and not merely in one descending from the 
top. Otherwise, the top officials may find that they have 
based their policy on a complete misconception of the 
facts that their underlings possess. Again, there is no 
task harder for a lecturer than to speak to a dead-pan 
audience. The purpose of applause in the theater— and 



it is essential— is to establish in the performer's mind 
some modicum of two-way communication. 

This matter of social feedback is of very great so- 
ciological and anthropological interest. The patterns of 
communication in human societies vary widely. There 
are communities like the Eskimos, among whom there 
seems to be no chieftainship and very little subordi- 
nation, so that the basis of the social community is sim- 
ply the common desire to survive against enormous 
odds of climate and food supply. There are socially 
stratified communities such as are found in India, in 
which the means of communication between two in- 
dividuals are closely restricted and modified by their 
ancestry and position. There are communities ruled by 
despots, in which every relation between two subjects 
becomes secondary to the relation between the subject 
and his king. There are the hierarchical feudal com- 
munities of lord and vassal, and the very special tech- 
niques of social communication which they involve. 

Most of us in the United States prefer to live in a 
moderately loose social community, in which the blocks 
to communication among individuals and classes are 
not too great. I will not say that this ideal of communi- 
cation is attained in the United States. Until white 
supremacy ceases to belong to the creed of a large part 
of the country it will be an ideal from which we fall 
short. Yet even this modified formless democracy is too 
anarchic for many of those who make efficiency their 
first ideal. These worshipers of efficiency would like to 
have each man move in a social orbit meted out to him 
from his childhood, and perform a function to which 
he is bound as the serf was bound to the clod. Within 
the American social picture, it is shameful to have 
these yearnings, and this denial of opportunities im- 
plied by an uncertain future. Accordingly, many of 
those who are most attached to this orderly state of 
permanently allotted functions would be confounded 
if they were forced to admit this publicly. They are 



only in a position to display their clear preferences 
through their actions. Yet these actions stand out dis- 
tinctly enough. The businessman who separates him- 
self from his employees by a shield of yes-men, or the 
head of a big laboratory who assigns each subordinate 
a particular problem, and begrudges him the privilege 
of thinking for himself so that he can move beyond his 
immediate problem and perceive its general relevance, 
show that the democracy to which they pay their re- 
spects is not really the order in which they would pre- 
fer to live. The regularly ordered state of pre-assigned 
functions toward which they gravitate is suggestive of 
the Leibnitzian automata and does not suggest the ir- 
reversible movement into a contingent future which 
is the true condition of human life. 

In the ant community, each worker performs its 
proper functions. There may be a separate caste of sol- 
diers. Certain highly specialized individuals perform 
the functions of king and queen. If man were to adopt 
this community as a pattern, he would live in a fascist 
state, in which ideally each individual is conditioned 
from birth for his proper occupation: in which rulers 
are perpetually rulers, soldiers perpetually soldiers, the 
peasant is never more than a peasant, and the worker 
is doomed to be a worker. 

It is a thesis of this chapter that this aspiration of the 
fascist for a human state based on the model of the ant 
results from a profound misapprehension both of the 
nature of the ant and of the nature of man. I wish to 
point out that the very physical development of the 
insect conditions it to be an essentially stupid and un- 
learning individual, cast in a mold which cannot be 
modified to any great extent. I also wish to show how 
these physiological conditions make it into a cheap 
mass-produced article, of no more individual value 
than a paper pie plate to be thrown away after it is 
once used. On the other hand, I wish to show that the 
human individual, capable of vast learning and study, 


which may occupy almost half of his life, is physically 
equipped, as the ant is not, for this capacity. Variety 
and possibility are inherent in the human sensorium— 
and are indeed the key to man's most noble flights— be- 
cause variety and possibility belong to the very struc- 
ture of the human organism. 

While it is possible to throw away this enormous ad- 
vantage that we have over the ants, and to organize 
the fascist ant-state with human material, I certainly 
believe that this is a degradation of man's very nature, 
and economically a waste of the great human values 
which man possesses. 

I am afraid that I am convinced that a community 
of human beings is a far more useful thing than a com- 
munity of ants; and that if the human being is con- 
demned and restricted to perform the same functions 
over and over again, he will not even be a good ant, 
not to mention a good human being. Those who would 
organize us according to permanent individual func- 
tions and permanent individual restrictions condemn 
the human race to move at much less than half -steam. 
They throw away nearly all our human possibilities and 
by limiting the modes in which we may adapt ourselves 
to future contingencies, they reduce our chances for a 
reasonably long existence on this earth. 

Let us now turn to a discussion of the restrictions on 
the make-up of the ant which have turned the ant com- 
munity into the very special thing it is. These restric- 
tions have a deep-seated origin in the anatomy and the 
physiology of the individual insect. Both the insect and 
the man are air-breathing forms, and represent the end 
of a long transition from the easygoing life of the water- 
borne animal to the much more exacting demands of 
the land-bound. This transition from water to land, 
wherever it has occurred, has involved radical im- 
provements in breathing, in the circulation generally, 
in the mechanical support of the organism, and in the 
sense organs. 



The mechanical reinforcement of the bodies of land 
animals has taken place along several independent 
lines. In the case of most of the mollusks, as well as in 
the case of certain other groups which, though unre- 
lated, have taken on a generally mollusk-like form, 
part of the outer surface secretes a non-living mass of 
calcareous tissue, the shell. This grows by accretion 
from an early stage in the animal until the end of its 
life. The spiral and helical forms of those groups need 
only this process of accretion to account for them. 

If the shell is to remain an adequate protection for 
the animal, and the animal grows to any considerable 
size in its later stages, the shell must be a very appre- 
ciable burden, suitable only for land animals of the 
slowly moving and inactive life of the snail. In other 
shell-bearing animals, the shell is lighter and less of a 
load, but at the same time much less of a protection. 
The shell structure, with its heavy mechanical burden, 
has had only a limited success among land animals. 

Man himself represents another direction of devel- 
opment—a direction found throughout the vertebrates, 
and at least indicated in invertebrates as highly devel- 
oped as the limulus and the octopus. In all these forms, 
certain internal parts of the connective tissue assume 
a consistency which is no longer fibrous, but rather that 
of a very hard, stiff jelly. These parts of the body are 
called cartilage, and they serve to attach the powerful 
muscles which animals need for an active life. In the 
higher vertebrates, this primary cartilaginous skeleton 
serves as a temporary scaffolding for a skeleton of much 
harder material: namely, bone, which is even more sat- 
isfactory for the attachment of powerful muscles. 
These skeletons, of bone or cartilage, contain a great 
deal of tissue which is not in any strict sense alive, but 
throughout this mass of intercellular tissue there is a 
living structure of cells, cellular membranes, and nutri- 
tive blood vessels. 

The vertebrates have developed not only internal 


skeletons, but other features as well which suit them 
for active life. Their respiratory system, whether it takes 
the form of gills or lungs, is beautifully adapted to the 
active interchange of oxygen between the external 
medium and a blood, and the latter is made much more 
efficient than the average invertebrate blood by having 
its oxygen-carrying respiratory pigment concentrated 
in corpuscles. This blood is pumped through a closed 
system of vessels, rather than through an open system 
of irregular sinuses, by a heart of relatively high ef- 

The insects and crustaceans, and in fact all the ar- 
thropods, are built for quite another kind of growth. 
The outer wall of the body is surrounded by a layer of 
chitin secreted by the cells of the epidermis. This chitin 
is a stiff substance rather closely related to cellulose. In 
the joints the layer of chitin is thin and moderately 
flexible, but over the rest of the animal it becomes that 
hard external skeleton which we see on the lobster and 
the cockroach. An internal skeleton such as man's can 
grow with the animal. An external skeleton ( unless, like 
the shell of the snail, it grows by accretion) cannot. It 
is dead tissue, and possesses no intrinsic capability of 
growth. It serves to give a firm protection to the body 
and an attachment for the muscles, but it amounts to a 
strait jacket. 

Internal growth among the arthropods can be con- 
verted into external growth only by discarding the old 
strait jacket, and by developing under it a new one, 
which is initially soft and pliable and can take a slightly 
new and larger form, but which very soon acquires the 
rigidity of its predecessor. In other words, the stages 
of growth are marked by definite moults, relatively fre- 
quent in the crustacean, and much less so in the insect. 
There are several such stages possible during the larval 
period. The pupal period represents a transition moult, 
in which the wings, that have not been functional in 
the larva, develop internally toward a functional con- 



dition. This becomes realized when the pre-final pupal 
stage, and the moult which terminates it gives rise to 
a perfect adult. The adult never moults again. It is in its 
sexual stage and although in most cases it remains ca- 
pable of taking nourishment, there are insects in which 
the adult mouth-parts and the digestive tube are 
aborted, so that the imago, as it is called, can only mate, 
lay eggs, and die. 

The nervous system takes part in this process of tear- 
ing down and building up. While there is a certain 
amount of evidence that some memory persists from 
the larva through to the imago, this memory cannot 
be very extensive. The physiological condition for 
memory and hence for learning seems to be a certain . 
continuity of organization, which allows the alterations V 
produced by outer sense impressions to be retained as 
more or less permanent changes of structure or func- 
tion. Metamorphosis is too radical to leave much lasting 
record of these changes. It is indeed hard to conceive 
of a memory of any precision which can survive this 
process of radical internal reconstruction. 

There is another limitation on the insect, which is 
due to its method of respiration and circulation. The 
heart of the insect is a very poor and weak tubular 
structure, which opens, not into well-defined blood ves- 
sels, but into vague cavities or sinuses conveying the 
blood to the tissues. This blood is without pigmented 
corpuscles, and carries the blood-pigments in solu- 
tion. This mode of transferring oxygen seems to be 
definitely inferior to the corpuscular method. 

In addition, the insect method of oxygenation of the 
tissues makes at most only local use of the blood. The 
body of the animal contains a system of branched tu- 
bules, carrying air directly from the outside into the 
tissues to be oxygenated. These tubules are stiffened 
against collapse by spiral fibers of chitin, and are thus 
passively open, but there is nowhere evidence of an 


active and effective system of air pumping. Respiration 
occurs by diffusion alone. 

Notice that the same tubules carry by diffusion the 
good air in and the spent air, polluted with carbon di- 
oxide, out to the surface. In a diffusion mechanism, the 
time of diffusion varies not as the length of the tube, 
but as the square of the length. Thus, in general, the 
efficiency of this system tends to fall off very rapidly 
with the size of the animal, and falls below the point 
of survival for an animal of any considerable size. So 
not only is the insect structurally incapable of a first- 
rate memory, he is also structurally incapable of an ef- 
fective size. 

To know the significance of this limitation in size, 
let us compare two artificial structures— the cottage and 
the skyscraper. The ventilation of a cottage is quite 
adequately taken care of by the leak of air around the 
window frames, not to mention the draft of the chim- 
ney. No special ventilation system is necessary. On the 
other hand, in a skyscraper with rooms within rooms, a 
shutdown of the system of forced ventilation would 
be followed in a very few minutes by an intolerable 
foulness of the air in the work spaces. Diffusion and 
even convection are no longer enough to ventilate such 
a structure. 

The absolute maximum size of an insect is smaller 
than that attainable by a vertebrate. On the other hand, 
the ultimate elements of which the insect is composed 
are not always smaller than they are in man, or even 
in a whale. The nervous system partakes of this small 
size, and yet consists of neurons not much smaller than 
those in the human brain, though there are many fewer 
of them, and their structure is far less complex. In the 
matter of intelligence, we should expect that it is not 
only the relative size of the nervous system that counts, 
but in a large measure its absolute size. There is simply 
no room in the reduced structure of an insect for a 



nervous system of great complexity, nor for a large 
stored memory. 

In view of the impossibility of a large stored mem- 
ory, as well as of the fact that the youth of an insect 
such as an ant is spent in a form which is insulated 
from the adult phase by the intermediate catastrophe 
of metamorphosis, there is no opportunity for the ant 
to learn much. Add to this, that its behavior in the 
adult stage must be substantially perfect from the be- 
ginning, and it then becomes clear that the instructions 
received by the insect nervous system must be pretty 
much a result of the way it is built, and not of any 
personal experience. Thus the insect is rather like the 
kind of computing machine whose instructions are all 
set forth in advance on the "tapes," and which has next 
to no feedback mechanism to see it through the uncer- 
tain future. The behavior of an ant is much more a 
matter of instinct than of intelligence. The physical 
strait jacket in which an insect grows up is directly 
responsible for the mental strait jacket which regulates 
its pattern of behavior. 

Here the reader may say: "Well, we already know 
that the ant as an individual is not very intelligent, so 
why all this fuss about explaining why it cannot be 
intelligent?" The answer is that Cybernetics takes the 
view that the structure of the machine or of the organ- 
ism is an index of the performance that may be ex- 
pected from it. The fact that the mechanical rigidity of 
the insect is such as to limit its intelligence while the 
mechanical fluidity of the human being provides for 
his almost indefinite intellectual expansion is highly rel- 
evant to the point of view of this book. Theoretically, 
if we could build a machine whose mechanical struc- 
ture duplicated human physiology, then we could have 
a machine whose intellectual capacities would dupli- 
cate those of human beings. 

In the matter of rigidity of behavior, the greatest 
contrast to the ant is not merely the mammal in gen- 


eral, but man in particular. It has frequently been ob- 
served that man is a neoteinic form: that is, that if we 
compare man with the great apes, his closest relatives, 
we find that mature man in hair, head, shape, body 
proportions, bony structure, muscles, and so on, is more 
like the newborn ape than the adult ape. Among the 
animals, man is a Peter Pan who never grows up. 

This immaturity of anatomical structure corresponds 
to man's prolonged childhood. Physiologically, man 
does not reach puberty until he has already completed 
a fifth of his normal span of life. Let us compare this 
with the ratio in the case of a mouse, which lives three 
years and starts breeding at the end of three months. 
This is a ratio of twelve to one. The mouse's ratio is 
much more nearly typical of the large majority of mam- 
mals than is the human ratio. 

Puberty for most mammals either represents the end 
of their epoch of tutelage, or is well beyond it. In our 
community, man is recognized as immature until the 
age of twenty-one, and the modern period of education 
for the higher walks of life continues until about thirty, 
actually beyond the time of greatest physical strength. 
Man thus spends what may amount to forty per cent 
of his normal life as a learner, again for reasons that 
have to do with his physical structure. It is as com- 
pletely natural for a human society to be based on 
learning as for an ant society to be based on an inher- 
ited pattern. 

Man like all other organisms lives in a contingent 
universe, but man's advantage over the rest of nature is 
that he has the physiological and-teBoettie intellectual 
equipment to adapt himself to radical changes in his 
environment. The human species is strong only insofar 
as it takes advantage of the innate adaptive, learning 
faculties that its physiological structure makes possible. 

We have already indicated that effective behavior 
must be informed by some sort of feedback process, 
telling it whether it has equalled its goal or fallen 



short. The simplest feedbacks deal with gross successes 
or failures of performance, such as whether we have 
actually succeeded in grasping an object that we have 
tried to pick up, or whether the advance guard of an 
army is at the appointed place at the appointed time. 
However, there are many other forms of feedback of a 
more subtle nature. 

It is often necessary for us to know whether a whole 
policy of conduct, a strategy so to say, has proved suc- 
cessful or not. The animal we teach to traverse a maze 
in order to find food or to avoid electric shocks, must 
be able to record whether the general plan of running 
through the maze has been on the whole successful or 
not, and it must be able to change this plan in order to 
run the maze efficiently. This form of learning is most 
certainly a feedback, but it is a feedback on a higher 
level, a feedback of policies and not of simple actions. 
It differs from more elementary feedbacks in what Ber- 
trand Russell would call its "logical type." 

This pattern of behavior may also be found in ma- 
chines. A recent innovation in the technique of 
telephonic switching provides an interesting mechan- 
ical analogy to man's adaptive faculty. Throughout the 
telephone industry, automatic switching is rapidly 
completing its victory over manual switching, and it 
may seem to us that the existing forms of automatic 
switching constitute a nearly perfect process. Never- 
theless, a little thought will show that the present proc- 
ess is very wasteful of equipment. The number of 
people with whom I actually wish to talk over the tele- 
phone is limited, and in large measure is the same lim- 
ited group day after day and week after week. I use 
most of the telephone equipment available to me to 
communicate with members of this group. Now, as the 
present technique of switching generally goes, the 
process of reaching one of the people whom we call up 
four or five times a day is in no way different from the 
process of reaching those people with whom we may 


never have a conversation. From the standpoint of bal- 
anced service, we are using either too little equipment 
to handle the frequent calls or too much to handle the 
infrequent calls, a situation which reminds me of Oliver 
Wendell Holmes' poem on the "one-hoss shay." This 
hoary vehicle, as you recollect, after one hundred years 
of service, showed itself to be so carefully designed 
that neither wheel, nor top, nor shafts, nor seat con- 
tained any part which manifested an uneconomical ex- 
cess of wearing power over any other part. Actually, 
the "one-hoss shay" represents the pinnacle of engi- 
neering, and is not merely a humorous fantasy. If the 
tires had lasted a moment longer than the spokes or 
the dashboard than the shafts, these parts would have 
carried into disuse certain economic values. These val- 
ues could either have been reduced without hurting 
the durability of the vehicle as a whole, or they could 
have been transferred equally throughout the entire* 
vehicle to make the whole thing last longer. Indeed, 
any structure not of the nature of the "one-hoss shay" is 
wastefully designed. 

This means that for the greatest economy of service 
it is not desirable that the process of my connection 
with Mr. A., whom I call up three times a day, and 
with Mr. B., who is for me only an unnoticed item in 
the telephone directory, should be of the same order. 
If I wew allotted a slightly more direct means of con- 
nection with Mr. A., then the time wasted in having to 
wait twice as long for Mr. B. would be more than com- 
pensated for. If then, it is possible without excessive 
cost to devise an apparatus which will record my past 
conversations, and reapportion to me a degree of serv- 
ice corresponding to the frequency of my past use of 
the telephone channels, I should obtain a better serv- 
ice, or a less expensive one, or both. The Philips Lamp 
Company in Holland has succeeded in doing this. The 
quality of its service has been improved by means of a 
feedback of Russell's so-called "higher logical type." It 



is capable of greater variety, more adaptability, and 
deals more effectively than conventional equipment 
with the entropic tendency for the more probable to 
overwhelm the less probable. 

I repeat, feedback is a method of controlling a system 
by reinserting into it the results of its past perform- 
ance. If these results are merely used as numerical data 
for the criticism of the system and its regulation, we 
have the simple feedback of the control engineers. If, 
however, the information which proceeds backward 
from the performance is able to change the general 
method and pattern of performance, we have a process 
which may well be called learning. 

Another example of the learning process appears in 
connection with the problem of the design of predic- 
tion machines. At the beginning of World War II, the 
comparative inefficiency of anti-aircraft fire made it 
necessary to introduce apparatus which would follow 
the position of an airplane, compute its distance, de- 
termine the length of time before a shell could reach 
it, and figure out where it would be at the end of that 
time. If the plane were able to take a perfectly arbi- 
trary evasive action, no amount of skill would permit 
us to fill in the as yet unknown motion of the plane 
between the time when the gun was fired and the time 
when the shell should arrive approximately at its goal. 
However, under many circumstances the aviator either 
does not, or cannot, take arbitrary evasive action. He is 
limited by the fact that if he makes a rapid turn, cen- 
trifugal force will render him unconscious; and by the 
other fact that the control mechanism of his plane and 
the course of instructions which he has received prac- 
tically force on him certain regular habits of control 
which show themselves even in his evasive action. 
These regularities are not absolute but are rather sta- 
tistical preferences which appear most of the time. 
They may be different for different aviators, and they 
will certainly be for different planes. Let us remember 



that in the pursuit of a target as rapid as an airplane, 
there is not time for the computer to take out his in- 
struments and figure where the plane is going to be. 
All the figuring must be built into the gun control itself. 
This figuring must include data which depend on our 
past statistical experience of airplanes of a given type 
under varying flight conditions. The present stage of 
anti-aircraft fire consists in an apparatus which uses 
either fixed data of this sort, or a selection among a 
limited number of such fixed data. The proper choice 
among these may be switched in by means of the vol- 
untary action of the gunner. 

However, there is another stage of the control prob- 
lem which may also be dealt with mechanically. The 
problem of determining the flight statistics of a plane 
from the actual observation of its flight, and then of 
transforming these into rules for controlling the gun, is 
itself a definite and mathematical one. Compared with 
the actual pursuit of the plane, in accordance with 
given rules, it is a relatively slow action, and involves a 
considerable observation of the past flight of the air- 
plane. It is nevertheless not impossible to mechanize 
this long-time action as well as the short-time action. 
We thus may construct an anti-aircraft gun which ob- 
serves by itself the statistics concerning the motion of 
the target plane, which then works these into a system 
of control, and which finally adopts this system of con- 
trol as a quick way for adjusting its position to the 
observed position and motion of the plane. 

To my knowledge this has not yet been done, but it is 
a problem which lies along lines we are considering, 
and expect to use in other problems of prediction. The 
adjustment of the general plan of pointing and firing 
the gun according to the particular system of motions 
which the target has made is essentially an act of learn- 
ing. It is a change in the taping of the gun's computing 
mechanism, which alters not so much the numerical 
data, as the process by which they are interpreted. It is, 



in fact, a very general sort of feedback, affecting the 
whole method of behavior of the instrument. 

The advanced process of learning which we have 
here discussed is still limited by the mechanical con- 
ditions of the system in which it occurs, and clearly 
does not correspond to the normal process of learning 
in man. But from this process we can infer quite differ- 
ent ways in which learning of a complex sort can be 
mechanized. These indications are given respectively 
by the Lockean theory of association, and by Pavlov's 
theory of the conditioned reflex. Before I take these up, 
however, I wish to make some general remarks to cover 
in advance certain criticisms of the suggestion that I 
shall present. 

Let me recount the basis on which it is possible to 
develop a theory of learning. By far the greater part of 
the work of the nerve physiologist has been on the con- 
duction of impulses by nerve fibers or neurons, and this 
process is given as an all-or-none phenomenon. That is, 
if a stimulus reaches the point or threshold where it 
will travel along a nerve fiber at all, and not die out in 
a relatively short distance, the effect which it produces 
at a comparatively remote point on the nerve fiber is 
substantially independent of its initial strength. 

These nerve impulses travel from fiber to fiber across 
connections known as synapses, in which one ingoing 
fiber may come in contact with many outgoing fibers, 
and one outgoing fiber in contact with many ingoing 
fibers. In these synapses, the impulse given by a single 
incoming nerve fiber is often not enough to produce an 
effective outgoing impulse. In general, if the impulses 
arriving at a given outgoing fiber by incoming synaptic 
connections are too few, the outgoing fiber will not re- 
spond. When I say too few, I do not necessarily mean 
that all incoming fibers act alike, nor even that with 
any set of incoming active synaptic connections the 
question of whether the outgoing fiber will respond 
may be settled once for all. I also do not intend to ignore 


the fact that some incoming fibers, instead of tending 
to produce a stimulus in the outgoing fibers with which 
they connect, may tend to prevent these fibers from 
accepting new stimuli. 

Be that as it may, while the problem of the conduc- 
tion of impulses along a fiber may be described in a 
rather simple way as an all-or-none phenomenon, the 
problem of the transmission of an impulse across a layer 
of synaptic connections depends on a complicated pat- 
tern of responses, in which certain combinations of in- 
coming fibers, firing within a certain limited time, will 
cause the message to go further, while certain other 
combinations will not. These combinations are not a 
thing fixed once for all, nor do they even depend solely 
on the past history of messages received into that syn- 
aptic layer. They are known to change with temper- 
ature, and may well change with many other things. 

This view of the nervous system corresponds to the 
theory of those machines that consist in a sequence of 
switching devices in which the opening of a later 
switch depends on the action of precise combinations 
of earlier switches leading into it, which open at the 
same time. This all-or-none machine is called a digital 
machine. It has great advantages for the most varied 
problems of communication and control. In particular, 
the sharpness of the decision between "yes" and "no" 
permits it to accumulate information in such a way as to 
allow us to discriminate very small differences in very 
large numbers. 

Besides these machines which work on a yes-and-no 
scale, there are other computing and control machines 
which measure rather than count. These are known as 
analogy machines, because they operate on the basis 
of analogous connections between the measured quan- 
tities and the numerical quantities supposed to repre- 
sent them. An example of an analogy machine is a slide 
rule, in contrast with a desk computing machine which 
operates digitally. Those who have used a slide rule 



know that the scale on which the marks have to be 
printed and the accuracy of our eyes give sharp limits 
to the precision with which the rule can be read. These 
limits are not as easily extended as one might think, by 
making the slide rule larger. A ten-foot slide rule will 
give only one decimal place more accuracy than a one- 
foot slide rule, and in order to do this, not only must 
each foot of the larger slide rule be constructed with the 
same precision as the smaller one, but the orientation 
of these successive feet must conform to the degree of 
accuracy to be expected for each one-foot slide rule. 
Furthermore, the problems of keeping the larger rule 
rigid are much greater than those which we find in the t 
case of the smaller rule, and serve to limit the increase 
in accuracy which we get by increasing the size. In 
other words, for practical purposes, machines that 
measure, as opposed to machines that count, are very 
greatly limited in their precision. Add this to the preju- 
dices of the physiologist in favor of all-or-none action, 
and we see why the greater part of the work which has 
been done on the mechanical simulacra of the brain 
has been on machines which are more or less on a dig- 
ital basis. 

However, if we insist too strongly on the brain as a 
glorified digital machine, we shall be subject to some 
very just criticism, coming in part from the physiolo- 
gists and in part from the somewhat opposite camp of 
those psychologists who prefer not to make use of the 
machine comparison. I have said that in a digital ma- 
chine there is a taping, which determines the sequence 
of operations to be performed, and that a change in 
this taping on the basis of past experience corresponds 
to a learning process. In the brain, the clearest analogy 
to taping is the determination of the synaptic thresh- 
olds, of the precise combinations of the incoming neu- 
rons which will fire an outgoing neuron with which 
they are connected. We have already seen that these 
thresholds are variable with temperature, and we have 


no reason to believe that they may not be variable 
with the chemistry of the blood and with many other 
phenomena which are not themselves originally of an 
all-or-none nature. It is therefore necessary that in con- 
sidering the problem of learning, we should be most 
wary of assuming an all-or-none theory of the nervous 
system, without having made an intellectual criticism 
of the notion, and without specific experimental evi- 
dence to back our assumption. 

It will often be said that there is no theory of learning 
whatever that will be reasonable for the machine. It 
will also be said that in the present stage of our knowl- 
edge, any theory of learning which I may offer will be 
premature, and will probably not correspond to the ac- 
tual functioning of the nervous system. I wish to walk 
a middle path between these two criticisms. On the 
one hand, I wish to give a method of constructing learn- 
ing machines, a method which will not only enable me 
to build certain special machines of this type, but will 
give me a general engineering technique for construct- 
ing a very large class of such machines. Only if I reach 
this degree of generality will I have defended myself 
in some measure from the criticism that the mechanical 
process which I claim is similar to learning, is, in fact, 
something of an essentially different nature from learn- 

On the other hand, I wish to describe such machines 
in terms which are not too foreign to the actual ob- 
servables of the nervous system, and of human and an- 
imal conduct. I am quite aware that I cannot expect to 
be right in detail in presenting the actual human mech- 
anism, and that I may even be wrong in principle. 
Nevertheless, if I give a device which can be verbally 
formulated in terms of the concepts belonging to the 
human mind and the human brain, I shall give a point 
of departure for criticism, and a standard with which to 
compare the performance to be expected on the basis 
of other theories. 



Locke, at the end of the seventeenth century, con- 
sidered that the content of the mind was made up of 
what he calls ideas. The mind for him is entirely pas- 
sive, a clean blackboard, tabula rasa, on which the 
experiences of the individual write their own impres- 
sions. If these impressions appear often, either under 
circumstances of simultaneity, or in a certain sequence, 
or in situations which we ordinarily attribute to cause 
and effect, then according to Locke, these impressions 
or ideas will form complex ideas, with a certain positive 
tendency for the component elements to stick together. 
The mechanism by which the ideas stick together lies 
in the ideas themselves; but there is throughout Locke's 
writing a singular unwillingness to describe such a 
mechanism. His theory can bear only the sort of rela- 
tion to reality that a picture of a locomotive bears to a 
working locomotive. It is a diagram without any work- 
ing parts. This is not remarkable when we consider the 
date of Locke's theory. It was in astronomy, and not in 
engineering or in psychology, that the dynamic point 
of view, the point of view of working parts, first 
reached its importance; and this was at the hands of 
Newton, who was not a predecessor of Locke, but a 

For several centuries, science, dominated by the Aris- 
totelian impulse to classify, neglected the modern im- 
pulse to search for ways in which phenomena function. 
Indeed, with the plants and animals yet to be explored, 
it is hard to see how biological science could have en- 
tered a properly dynamic period except through the 
continual gathering of more descriptive natural history. 
The great botanist Linnaeus will serve us as an exam- 
ple. For Linnaeus, species and genera were fixed Aris- 
totelian forms, rather than signposts for a process of 
evolution; but it was only on the basis of a thoroughly 
Linnaean description that any cogent case could ever 
be made for evolution. The early natural historians 
were the practical frontiersmen of the intellect; too 


much under the compulsion to seize and occupy new 
territory to be very precise in treating the problem of 
explaining the new forms that they had observed. After 
the frontiersman comes the operative farmer, and after 
the naturalist comes the modern scientist. 

In the last quarter of the last century and the first 
quarter of the present one, another great scholar, 
Pavlov, covered in his own way essentially the same 
ground that Locke had covered earlier. His study of 
the conditioned reflexes, however, progressed experi- 
mentally, not theoretically as Locke's had. Moreover, 
he treated it as it appears among the lower animals 
rather than as it appears in man. The lower animals 
cannot speak in man's language, but in the language of 
behavior. Much of their more conspicuous behavior is 
emotional in its motivation and much of their emotion 
is concerned with food. It was with food that Pavlov 
began, and with the physical symptom of salivation. It 
is easy to insert a canula into the salivary duct of a dog 
and to observe the secretion that is stimulated by the 
presence of food. 

Ordinarily many things unconnected with food, as 
objects seen, sounds heard, etc., produce no effect on 
salivation, but Pavlov observed that if a certain pattern 
or a certain sound had been systematically introduced 
to a dog at feeding time, then the display of the pat- 
tern or sound alone was sufficient to excite salivation. 
That is, the reflex of salivation was conditioned by a 
past association. 

Here we have on the level of the animal reflex, some- 
thing analogous to Locke's association of ideas, an as- 
sociation which occurs in reflex responses whose 
emotional content is presumably very strong. Let us 
notice the rather complicated nature of the anteced- 
ents which are needed to produce a conditioned re- 
flex of the Pavlov type. To begin with, they generally 
center about something important to the life of the an- 
imal: in this case, food, even though in the reflex's final 



form the food element may be entirely elided. We may, 
however, illustrate the importance of the initial stim- 
ulus of a Pavlovian conditioned reflex by the example 
of electric fences enclosing a cattle farm. 

On cattle farms, the construction of wire fences 
strong enough to turn a steer is not easy. It is thus eco- 
nomical to replace a heavy fence of this type by one 
where one or two relatively thin strands of wire carry 
a sufficiently high electric voltage to impress upon an 
animal a quite appreciable shock when the animal 
short-circuits it by contact with its body. Such a fence 
may have to resist the pressure of the steer once or 
twice; but after that, the fence acts, not because it can 
hold up mechanically under pressure, but because the 
steer has developed a conditioned reflex which tends 
to prevent it from coming into contact with the fence 
at all. Here the original trigger to the reflex is pain; 
and the withdrawal from pain is vital for the continued 
life of any animal. The transferred trigger is the sight 
of the fence. There are other triggers which lead to 
conditioned reflexes besides hunger and pain. It will 
be using anthropomorphic language to call these emo- 
tional situations, but there is no such anthropomor- 
phism needed to describe them as situations which gen- 
erally carry an emphasis and importance not belonging 
to many other animal experiences. Such experiences, 
whether we may call them emotional or not, produce 
strong reflexes. In the formation of conditioned reflexes 
in general the reflex response is transferred to one of 
these trigger situations. This trigger situation is one 
which frequently occurs concurrently with the original 
trigger. The change in the stimulus for which a given 
response takes place must have some such nervous cor- 
relate as the opening of a synaptic pathway leading to 
the response which would otherwise have been closed, 
or the closing of one which would otherwise have been 
open; and thus constitutes what Cybernetics calls a 
change in taping. 


Such a change in taping is preceded by the contin- 
ued association of the old, strong, natural stimulus for 
a particular reaction and the new concomitant one. It 
is as if the old stimulus had the power to change the 
permeability of those pathways which were carrying a 
message at the same time as it was active. The interest- 
ing thing is that the new, active stimulus need have 
almost nothing predetermined about it except the fact 
of repeated concomitance with the original stimulus. 
Thus the original stimulus seems to produce a long- 
time effect in all those pathways which were carrying 
a message at the time of its occurrence or at least in a 
large number of them. The insignificance of the sub- 
stitute stimulus indicates that the modifying effect of 
the original stimulus is widespread, and is not confined 
to a few special pathways. Thus we assume that there 
may be some kind of general message released by the 
original stimulus, but that it is active only in those chan- 
nels which were carrying a message at about the time 
of the original stimulus. The effect of this action may 
perhaps not be permanent, but is at least fairly long- 
lived. The most logical site at which to suppose this 
secondary action to take place is in the synapses, where 
it most probably affects their thresholds. 

The concept of an undirected message spreading out 
until it finds a receiver, which is then stimulated by it, 
is not an unfamiliar one. Messages of this sort are used 
very frequently as alarms. The fire siren is a call to all 
the citizens of the town, and in particular to members 
of the fire department, wherever they may be. In a 
mine, when we wish to clear out all remote passages 
because of the presence of fire damp, we break a tube 
of ethyl mercaptan in the air-intake. There is no reason 
to suppose that such messages may not occur in the 
nervous system. If I were to construct a learning ma- 
chine of a general type, I would be very much disposed 
to employ this method of the conjunction of general 
spreading "To-whom-it-may-concern" messages with 



localized channeled messages. It ought not to be too 
difficult to devise electrical methods of perf onning this 
task. This is very different, of course, from saying that 
learning in the animal actually occurs by such a con- 
junction of spreading and of channeled messages. 
Frankly, I think it is quite possible that it does, but our 
evidence is as yet not enough to make this more than a 

As to the nature of these "To-whom-it-may-concem" 
messages, supposing them to exist, I am on still more 
speculative ground. They might indeed be nervous, 
but I am rather inclined to attribute them to the non- 
digital, analogy side of the mechanism responsible for 
reflexes and thought. It is a truism to attribute synaptic 
action to chemical phenomena. Actually, in the action 
of a nerve, it is impossible to separate chemical po- 
tentials and electrical potentials, and the statement 
that a certain particular action is chemical is almost de- 
void of meaning. Nevertheless, it does no violence to 
current thought to suppose that at least one of the 
causes or concomitants of synaptic change is a chem- 
ical change which manifests itself locally, no matter 
what its origin may be. The presence of such a change 
may very well be locally dependent on release signals 
which are transmitted nervously. It is at least equally 
conceivable that changes of the sort may be due in 
part to chemical changes transmitted generally through 
the blood, and not by the nerves. It is conceivable that 
"To-whom-it-may-concern" messages are transmitted 
nervously, and make themselves locally apparent in 
the form of that sort of chemical action which accom- 
panies synaptic changes. To me, as an engineer, the 
transmission of "To-whom-it-may-concern" messages 
would appear to be more economically performed 
through the blood than through the nerves. However, 
I have no evidence. 

Let us remember that these "To-whom-it-may-con- 
cern" influences bear a certain similarity to the sort of 


changes in the anti-aircraft control apparatus which 
carry all new statistics to the instrument, rather than 
to those which directly carry only specific numerical 
data. In both cases, we have an action which has prob- 
ably been piling up for a long time, and which will 
produce effects due to continue for a long time. 

The rapidity with which the conditioned reflex re- 
sponds to its stimulus is not necessarily an index that 
the conditioning of the reflex is a process of comparable 
speed. Thus it seems to me appropriate for a message 
causing such a conditioning to be carried by the slow 
but pervasive influence of the blood stream. 

It is already a considerable narrowing of what my 
point of view requires, to suppose that the fixing influ- 
ence of hunger or pain or whatever stimulus may de- 
termine a conditioned reflex passes through the blood. 
It would be a still greater restriction if I should try to 
specify the nature of this unknown blood-borne influ- 
ence, if any such exists. That the blood carries in it 
substances which may alter nervous action directly or' 
indirectly seems to me very likely, and to be suggested 
by the actions of some at least of the hormones or in- 
ternal secretions. This, however, is not the same as say- 
ing that the influence on thresholds which determines 
learning is the product of specific hormones. Again, it 
is tempting to find the common denominator of hunger 
and the pain caused by the electrified fence in some- 
thing that we may call an emotion, but it is certainly 
going too far to attach emotion to all conditioners of 
reflexes, without any further discussion of their partic- 
ular nature. 

Nevertheless, it is interesting to know that the sort 
of phenomenon which is recorded subjectively as emo- 
tion may not be merely a useless epiphenomenon of 
nervous action, but may control some essential stage in 
learning, and in other similar processes. I definitely do 
not say that it does, but I do say that those psycholo- 
gists who draw sharp and uncross able distinctions be- 


tween man's emotions and those of other living 
organisms and the responses of the modern type of au- 
tomatic mechanisms, should be just as careful in their 
denials as I should be in my assertions. 



Naturally, no theory of communication can avoid the 
discussion of language. Language, in fact, is in one 
sense another name for communication itself, as well as 
a word used to describe the codes through which com- 
munication takes place. We shall see later in this chap- 
ter that the use of encoded and decoded messages is 
important, not merely for human beings, but for other 
living organisms, and for the machines used by human 
beings. Birds communicate with one another, monkeys 
communicate with one another, insects communicate 
with one another, and in all this communication some 
use is made of signals or symbols which can be under- 
stood only by being privy to the system of codes in- 

What distinguishes human communication from the 
communication of most other animals is (a) the del- 
icacy and complexity of the code used, and (b) the 
high degree of arbitrariness of this code. Many animals 
can signal their emotions to one another, and in signal- 
ing these emotions indicate the presence of an enemy, 
or of an animal of the same species but of opposite sex, 
and quite a variety of detailed messages of this sort. 
Most of these messages are fugitive and unstored. The 1 
greater part would be translated in human language 
into expletives and exclamations, although some might 
be rendered crudely by words to which we should be 
likely to give the form of nouns and adjectives, but 
which would be used by the animal in question without 



a ny corresponding distinction of grammatical form. In 
general, one would expect the language of animals to 
convey emotions first, things next, and the more com- 
plicated relations of things not at all. 

Besides this limitation of the language of animals as 
it concerns the character of what is communicated, 
their language is very generally fixed by the species 
of the animal, and unchanging in history. One lion's 
roar is very nearly another lion's roar. Yet there are 
animals such as the parrot, the myna, and the crow, 
which seem to be able to pick up sounds from the sur- 
rounding environment, and particularly from the cries 
of other animals and of man, and to be able to modify 
or to augment their vocabularies, albeit within very 
narrow limits. Yet even these do not seem to have any- 
thing like man's freedom to use any pronounceable 
sound as a code for some meaning or other, and to pass 
on this code to the surrounding group in such a way 
that the codification forms an accepted language un- 
derstood within the group, and almost meaningless on 
the outside. 

Within their very great limitations, the birds that can 
imitate human speech have several characteristics in 
common: they are social, they are rather long-lived, 
and they have memories which are excellent by any- 
thing less than the exacting human standard. There is 
no doubt that a talking bird can learn to use human 
or animal sounds at the appropriate cues, and with 
what will appear at least to the casual listener as some 
element of understanding. Yet even the most vocal 
members of the sub-human world fail to compete with 
man in ease of giving significance to new sounds, in 
repertory of sounds carrying a specific codification in 
extent of linguistic memory, and above all in the ability 
to form symbols for relations, classes, and other entities, 
of Russell's "higher logical type." 

I wish to point out nevertheless that language is not 
exclusively an attribute of living beings but one which 


they may share to a certain degree with the machines 
man has constructed. I wish to show further that man's 
preoccupation with language most certainly represents 
a possibility which is built into him, and which is not 
built into his nearest relatives, the great apes. Neverthe- 
less, I shall show that it is built in only as a possibility 
which must be made good by learning. 

We ordinarily think of communication and language 
as being directed from person to person. However, it is 
quite possible for a person to talk to a machine, a ma- 
chine to a person, and a machine to a machine. For 
example, in the wilder stretches of our own West and 
of Northern Canada, there are many possible power 
sites far from any settlement where the workers can 
live, and too small to justify the foundation of new set- 
tlements on their own account, though not so small 
that the power systems are able to neglect them. It is 
thus desirable to operate these stations in a way that 
does not involve a resident staff, and in fact leaves the 
stations unattended for months between the rounds of 
a supervising engineer. 

To accomplish this, two things are necessary. One 
of these is the introduction of automatic machinery; 
making it impossible to switch a generator on to a bus- 
bar or connecting member until it has come into the 
right frequency, voltage, and phase; and providing in 
a similar manner against other disastrous electrical, 
mechanical, and hydraulic contingencies. This type of 
operation would be enough if the daily cycle of the 
station were unbroken and unalterable. 

This, however, is not the case. The load on a gener- 
ating system depends on many variable factors. Among 
these are the fluctuating industrial demand; emergen- 
cies which may remove a part of the system from oper- 
ation; and even passing clouds, which may make tens 
of thousands of offices and homes turn on their electric 
lights in the middle of the day. It follows that the au- 
tomatic stations, as well as those operated by a working 



must be within constant reach of the load dis- 
who must be able to give orders to his ma- 
chines; and this he does by sending appropriately 
coded signals to the power station, either over a special 
line designed for the purpose, or over existing tele- 
graph or telephone lines, or over a carrier system mak- 
ing use of the power lines themselves. On the other 
hand, before the load dispatcher can give his orders 
intelligently, he must be acquainted with the state of 
affairs at the generating station. In particular, he must 
know whether the orders he has given have been ex- 
ecuted, or have been held up through some failure in 
the equipment. Thus the machines in the generating 
station must be able to send return messages to the 
load dispatcher. Here, then, is one instance of language 
emanating from man and directed toward the machine, 
and vice versa. 

It may seem curious to the reader that we admit ma- 
chines to the field of language and yet almost totally 
deny language to the ants. Nevertheless, in construct- 
ing machines, it is often very important for us to extend 
to them certain human attributes which are not found 
among the lower members of the animal community. 
If the reader wishes to conceive this as a metaphoric 
extension of our human personalities, he is welcome to 
do so; but he should be cautioned that the new ma- 
chines will not stop working as soon as we have 
stopped giving them human support. 

The language directed toward the machine actually 
consists of more than a single step. From the point of 
view of the line engineer alone, the code transmitted 
along the line is complete in itself. To this message we 
may apply all the notions of Cybernetics, or the theory 
or messages. We may evaluate the amount of informa- 
tion it carries by determining its probability in the en- 
semble of all possible messages, and then taking the 
negative logarithm of this probability, in accordance 
with the theory expounded in Chapter I. However, this 


represents not the information actually carried by the 
line, but the maximum amount it might carry, if it were 
to lead into proper terminal equipment. The amount 
of information carried with actual terminal equipment 
depends on the ability of the latter to transmit or to 
employ the inf ormation received. 

We are thus led to a new conception of the way in 
which the generating station receives the orders. Its 
actual performance of opening and closing switches, of 
pulling generators into phase, of controlling the flow 
of water in sluices, and of turning the turbines on or 
off, may be regarded as a language in itself, with a 
system of probabilities of behavior given by its own 
history. Within this frame every possible sequence of 
orders has its own probability, and hence carries its 
own amount of information. 

It is, of course, possible that the relation between the 
line and the terminal machine is so perfect that the 
amount of information contained in a message, from 
the point of view of the carrying capacity of the line, 
and the amount of information of the fulfilled orders, 
measured from the point of view of the operation of 
the machine, will be identical with the amount of in- 
formation transmitted over the compound system con- 
sisting of the line followed by the machine. In general, 
however, there will be a stage of translation between 
the line and the machine; and in this stage, information 
may be lost which can never be regained. Indeed, the 
process of transmitting information may involve several 
consecutive stages of transmission following one an- 
other in addition to the final or effective stage; and 
between any two of these there will be an act of trans- 
lation, capable of dissipating information. That infor- 
mation may be dissipated but not gained, is, as we have 
seen, the cybernetic form of the second law of thermo- 

Up to this point in this chapter we have been dis- 
cussing communication systems terminating in ma- 



chines. In a certain sense, all communication systems 
terminate in machines, but the ordinary language 
systems terminate in the special sort of machine known 
as a human being. The human being as a terminal 
machine has a communication network which may be 
considered at three distinct levels. For ordinary spoken 
language, the first human level consists of the ear, and 
of that part of the cerebral mechanism which is in 
permanent and rigid connection with the inner ear. 
This apparatus, when joined to the apparatus of sound 
vibrations in the air, or their equivalent in electric 
circuits, represents the machine concerned with the 
phonetic aspect of language, with sound itself. 

The semantic or second aspect of language is con- 
cerned with meaning, and is apparent, for example, in 
difficulties of translating from one language to another 
where the imperfect correspondence between the 
meanings of words restricts the flow of information 
from one into the other. One may get a remarkable 
semblance of a language like English by taking a se- 
quence of words, or pairs of words, or triads of words, 
according to the statistical frequency with which they 
occur in the language, and the gibberish thus obtained 
will have a remarkably persuasive similarity to good 
English. This meaningless simulacrum of intelligent 
speech is practically equivalent to significant language 
from the phonetic point of view, although it is seman- 
tically balderdash, while the English of an intelligent 
foreigner whose pronunciation is marked by the country 
of his birth, or who speaks literary English, will be 
semantically good and phonetically bad. On the other 
hand, the average synthetic after-dinner speech is 
phonetically good and semantically bad. 

In human communication apparatus, it is possible 
but difficult to determine the characteristics of its 
phonetic mechanism, and therefore also possible but 
difficult to determine what is phonetically significant 
information, and to measure it. It is clear, for example, 


that the ear and the brain have an effective frequency 
cutoff preventing the reception of some high frequen- 
cies which can penetrate the ear and can be trans- 
mitted by the telephone. In other words, these high 
frequencies, whatever information they may give an 
appropriate receptor, do not carry any significant 
amount of information for the ear. But it is even more 
difficult to determine and measure semantically sig- 
nificant information. 

Semantic reception demands memory, and its con- 
sequent long delays. The types of abstractions belong- 
ing to the important semantic stage are not merely 
those associated with built-in permanent subassem- 
blies of neurons in the brain, such as those which must 
play a large role in the perception of geometrical form; 
but with abstraction-detector-apparatus consisting of 
parts of the internurwial pool— that is, of sets of neurons 
which are available for larger assemblies, but are not 
permanently locked into them— which have been tem- 
porarily assembled for the purpose. 

Besides the highly organized and permanent assem- 
blies in the brain that undoubtedly exist, and are found 
in those parts of the brain associated with the organs 
of special sense, as well as in other places, there are 
particular switchings and connections which seem to 
have been formed temporarily for special purposes, 
such as learned reflexes and the like. In order to form 
such particular switchings, it must be possible to assem- 
ble sequences of neurons available for the purpose that 
are not already in use. This question of assembling 
concerns, of course, the synaptic thresholds of the se- 
quence of neurons assembled. Since neurons exist which 
can either be within or outside of such temporary as- 
semblies, it is desirable to have a special name for 
them. As I have already indicated, I consider that they 
correspond rather closely to what the neurophysiol- 
ogists call internuncial pools. 

This is at least a reasonable theory of their behavior. 



The semantic receiving apparatus neither receives nor 
translates the language word by word, but idea by idea, 
and often still more generally. In a certain sense, it 
is in a position to call on the whole of past experience 
in its transformations, and these long-time carry-overs 
are not a trivial part of its work. 

There is a third level of communication, which rep- 
resents a translation partly from the semantic level and 
partly from the earlier phonetic level. This is the trans- 
lation of the experiences of the individual, whether 
conscious or unconscious, into actions which may be 
observed externally. We may call this the behavior level 
of language. In the lower animals, it is the only level 
of language which we may observe beyond the phonetic 
input. Actually this is true in the case of every human 
being other than the particular person to whom any 
given passage is addressed in each particular case; in 
the sense that that person can have access to the in- 
ternal thoughts of another person only through the 
actions of the latter. These actions consist of two parts: 
namely, direct gross actions, of the sort which we also 
observe in the lower animals; and in the coded and 
symbolic system of actions which we know of as spoken 
or written language. 

It is theoretically not impossible to develop the 
statistics of the semantic and behavior languages to 
such a level that we may get a fair measure of the 
amount of information that they contain. Indeed we 
can show by general observations that phonetic lan- 
guage reaches the receiving apparatus with less over- 
all information than was originally sent, or at any rate 
with not more than the transmission system leading to 
the ear can convey; and that both semantic and be- 
havior language contain less information still. This fact 
again is a corollary of the second law of thermodynam- 
ics, and is necessarily true if at each stage we regard 
the information transmitted as the maximum infor- 



mation that could be transmitted with an appropriately 
coded receiving system. 

Let me now call the attention of the reader to some- 
thing which he may not consider a problem at ail- 
namely, the reason that chimpanzees do not talk. The 
behavior of chimpanzees has for a long time been a 
puzzle to those psychologists who have concerned 
themselves with these interesting beasts. The young 
chimpanzee is extraordinarily like a child, and clearly 
his equal or perhaps even his superior in intellectual 
matters. The animal psychologists have not been able 
to keep from wondering why a chimpanzee brought up 
in a human family and subject to the impact of human 
speech until the age of one or two, does not accept 
language as a mode of expression, and itself burst into 
baby talk. 

Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, 
most chimpanzees, in fact all that have as yet been 
observed, persist in being good chimpanzees, and do 
not become quasi-human morons. Nevertheless I think 
that the average animal psychologist is rather long- 
ingly hoping for that chimpanzee who will disgrace his 
simian ancestry by adhering to more human modes of 
conduct. The failure so far is not a matter of sheer bulk 
of intelligence, for there are defective human animals 
whose brains would shame a chimpanzee. It just does 
not belong to the nature of the beast to speak, or to 
want to speak. 

Speech is such a peculiarly human activity that it 
is not even approached by man's closest relatives and 
his most active imitators. The few sounds emitted by 
chimpanzees have, it is true, a great deal of emotional 
content, but they have not the fineness of clear and 
repeated accuracy of organization needed to make them 
into a code much more accurate than the yowlings of 
a cat. Moreover ( and this differentiates them still more 
from human speech ) , at times they belong to the chim- 
panzee as an unlearned inborn manifestation, rather 



than as the learned behavior of a member of a given 
social community. 

The fact that speech belongs in general to man as 
man, but that a particular form of speech belongs to 
man as a member of a particular social community, is 
most remarkable. In the first place, taking the whole 
wide range of man as we know him today, it is safe to 
say that there is no community of individuals, not 
mutilated by an auditory or a mental defect, which 
does not have its own mode of speech. In the second 
place, all modes of speech are learned, and notwith- 
standing the attempts of the nineteenth century to 
formulate a genetic evolutionistic theory of languages, 
there is not the slightest general reason to postulate 
any single native form of speech from which all the 
present forms are originated. It is quite clear that if 
left alone, babies will make attempts at speech. These 
attempts, however, show their own inclinations to utter 
something, and do not follow any existing form of lan- 
guage. It is almost equally clear that if a community of 
children were left out of contact with the language of 
their seniors through the critical speech-forming years, 
they would emerge with something, which crude as it 
might be, would be unmistakably a language. 

Why is it then that chimpanzees cannot be forced to 
talk, and that human children cannot be forced not 
to? Why is it that the general tendencies to speak and 
the general visual and psychological aspects of lan- 
guage are so uniform over large groups of people, while 
the particular linguistic manifestation of these aspects 
is varied? At least partial understanding of these mat- 
ters is essential to any comprehension of the language- 
based community. We merely state the fundamental 
facts by saying that in man, unlike the apes, the im- 
pulse to use some sort of language is overwhelming; 
but that the particular language used is a matter which 
has to be learned in each special case. It apparently is 
built into the brain itself, that we are to have a pre- 


occupation with codes and with the sounds of speech, 
and that the preoccupation with codes can be extended 
from those dealing with speech to those that concern 
themselves with visual stimuli. However, there is not 
one fragment of these codes which is born into us as a 
pre-established ritual, like the courting dances of many 
of the birds, or the system by which ants recognize 
and exclude intruders into the nest. The gift of speech 
does not go back to a universal Adamite language dis- 
rupted in the Tower of Babel. It is strictly a psycho- 
logical impulse, and is not the gift of speech, but the 
gift of the power of speech. 

In other words, the block preventing young chim- 
panzees from learning to talk is a block which concerns 
the semantic and not the phonetic stage of language. 
The chimpanzee has simply no built-in mechanism 
which leads it to translate the sounds that it hears into 
the basis around which to unite its own ideas or into 
a complex mode of behavior. Of the first of these state- 
ments we cannot be sure because we have no direct 
way of observing it. The second is simply a noticeable 
empirical fact. It may have its limitations, but that 
there is such a built-in mechanism in man is perfectly 

In this book, we have already emphasized man's 
extraordinary ability to learn as a distinguishing char- 
acteristic of the species, which makes social life a 
phenomenon of an entirely different nature from the 
apparently analogous social life among the bees and 
ants and other social insects. The evidence concerning 
children who have been deprived of contact with their 
own race over the years normally critical in the ordinary 
acquisition of language, is perhaps not completely un- 
ambiguous. The "Wolf Child" stories, which have led 
to Kipling's imaginative Jungle Books, with their pub- 
lic-school bears and Sandhurst wolves, are almost as 
little to be relied on in their original stark squalidity 
as in the Jungle Books idealizations. However, what 



evidence there is goes to show that there is a critical 
period during which speech is most readily learned; 
and that if this period is passed over without contact 
with one's fellow human beings, of whatever sort they 
may be, the learning of language becomes limited, 
slow, and highly imperfect. 

This is probably true of most other abilities which 
we consider natural skills. If a child does not walk until 
it is three or four years old, it may have lost all the 
desire to walk. Ordinary locomotion may become a 
harder task than driving a car for the normal adult. 
If a person has been blind from childhood, and the 
blindness has been resolved by a cataract operation or 
the implantation of a transparent corneal section, the 
vision that ensues will, for a time, certainly bring 
nothing but confusion to those activities which have 
normally been carried out in darkness. This vision may 
never be more than a carefully learned new attain- 
ment of doubtful value. Now, we may fairly take it 
that the whole of human social life in its normal mani- 
festations centers about speech, and that if speech is 
not learned at the proper time, the whole social aspect 
of the individual will be aborted. 

To sum up, the human interest in language seems to 
be an innate interest in coding and decoding, and this 
seems to be as nearly specifically human as any interest 
can be. Speech is the greatest interest and most dis- 
tinctive achievement of man. 

I was brought up as the son of a philologist, aud 
questions concerning the nature and technique of lan- 
guage have interested me from my childhood. It is 
impossible for as thorough a revolution in the theory of 
language as is offered by modern communication the- 
ory to take effect without effecting past linguistic ideas. 
As my father was a very heretical philologist whose 
influence tended to lead philology in much the same 
direction as the modern influences of communication 
theory, I wish to continue this chapter with a few 


amateurish reflections on the history of language and 
the history of our theory of language. 

Man has held the notion that language is a mystery 
since very early times. The riddle of the Sphinx is a 
primitive conception of wisdom. Indeed, the very word 
riddle is derived from the root "to rede," or to puzzle 
out. Among many primitive people writing and sor- 
cery are not far apart. The respect for writing goes so 
far in some parts of China that people are loath to 
throw away scraps of old newspapers and useless frag- 
ments of books. 

Close to all these manifestations is the phenomenon 
of "name magic" in which members of certain cultures 
go from birth to death under names that are not prop- 
erly their own, in order that they may not give a sor- 
cerer the advantage of knowing their true names. Most 
familiar to us of these cases is that of the name of 
Jehovah of the Jews, in which the vowels are taken over 
from that other name of God, "Adonai," so that the 
Name of Power may not be blasphemed by being pro- 
nounced in profane mouths. 

From the magic of names it is but a step to a deeper 
and more scientific interest in language. As an interest 
in textual criticism in the authenticity of oral traditions 
and of written texts it goes back to the ancients of all 
civilizations. A holy text must be kept pure. When 
there are divergent readings they must be resolved 
by some critical commentator. Accordingly, the Bible 
of the Christians and the Jews, the sacred books of the 
Persians and the Hindus, the Buddhist scriptures, the 
writings of Confucius, all have their early commenta- 
tors. What has been learned for the maintenance of 
true religion has been carried out as a literary disci- 
pline, and textual criticism is one of the oldest of 
intellectual studies. 

For a large part of the last century philological his- 
tory was reduced to a series of dogmas which at times 
show a surprising ignorance of the nature of language. 


8 7 

The model of the Darwinian evolutionism of the times 
was taken too seriously and too uncritically. As this 
whole subject depends in the most intimate manner on 
our views of the nature of communication, I shall com- 
ment on it at a certain length. 

The early speculation that Hebrew was the language 
of man in Paradise, and that the confusion of language 
originated at the building of the Tower of Babel, need 
not interest us here as anything more than a primitive 
precursor of scientific thought. However, the later de- 
velopments of philological thought have retained for 
a long time a similar naivete. That languages are re- 
lated, and that they undergo progressive changes lead- 
ing in the end to totally different languages, were 
observations which could not long remain unnoticed 
by the keen philological minds of the Renaissance. A 
book such as Ducange's Glossarium Mediae atque In- 
jimae Latinitatis could not exist without its being clear 
that the roots of the Romance languages are not only 
in Latin, but in vulgar Latin. There must have been 
many learned rabbis who were well aware of the re- 
semblance of Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac. When, under 
the advice of the much maligned Warren Hastings, the 
East India Company founded its School of Oriental 
Studies at Fort William, it was no longer possible to 
ignore that Greek and Latin on the one hand, and 
Sanskrit on the other, were cut from the same cloth. 
At the beginning of the last century the work of the 
brothers Grimm and of the Dane, Rask, showed not 
only that the Teutonic languages came within the or- 
bit of this so-called Indo-European group, but went 
further to make clear the linguistic relations of these 
languages to one another, and to a supposed distant 
common parent. 

Thus evolutionism in language antedates the refined 
Darwinian evolutionism in biology. Valid as this ev- 
olutionism is, it very soon began to outdo biological 
evolutionism in places where the latter was not appli- 


cable. It assumed, that is, that the languages were 
independent, quasi-biological entities, with their de- 
velopments modified entirely by internal forces and 
needs. In fact, they are epiphenomena of human in- 
tercourse, subject to all the social forces due to changes 
in the pattern of that intercourse. 

In the face of the existence of Mischsprachen, of lan- 
guages such as Lingua Franca, Swahili, Yiddish, Chi- 
nook Jargon, and even to a considerable extent 
English, there has been an attempt to trace each lan- 
guage to a single legitimate ancestor, and to treat the 
other participants in its origin as nothing more than 
godparents of the newborn child. There has been a 
scholars' distinction between legitimate phonetic for- 
mations following accepted laws, and such regrettable 
accidents as nonce words, popular etymologies, and 
slang. On the grammatical side, the original attempt to 
force all languages of any origin whatsoever into the 
strait jacket manufactured for Latin and Greek has 
been succeeded by an attempt almost as rigorous to 
form for each of them its own paradigms of construc- 

It is scarcely until the recent work of Otto Jespersen 
that any considerable group of philologists have had 
objectivity enough to make of their science a repre- 
sentation of language as it is actually spoken and 
written, rather than a copybook attempt to teach the 
Eskimos how to speak Eskimo, and the Chinese how to 
write Chinese. The effects of misplaced grammatical 
purism are to be seen well outside of the schools. First 
among these, perhaps, is the way in which the Latin 
language, like the earlier generation of classical gods, 
has been slain by its own children. 

During the Middle Ages Latin of a varying quality, 
the best of it quite acceptable to anyone but a pedant, 
remained the universal language of the clergy and of 
all learned men throughout Western Europe, even as 
Arabic has remained in the Moslem world down to the 



present day. This continued prestige of Latin was made 
possible by the willingness of writers and speakers of 
the language either to borrow from other languages, or 
to construct within the frame of Latin itself, all that 
was necessary for the discussion of the live philosoph- 
ical problems of the age. The Latin of Saint Thomas 
is not the Latin of Cicero, but Cicero would have been 
unable to discuss Thomistic ideas in the Ciceronian 

It may be thought that the rise of the vulgar lan- 
guages of Europe must necessarily have marked the 
end of the function of Latin. This is not so. In India, 
notwithstanding the growth of the neo-Sanskritic lan- 
guages, Sanskrit has shown a remarkable vitality last- 
ing down to the present day. The Moslem world, as I 
have said, is united by a tradition of classical Arabic, 
even though the majority of Moslems are not Arabic 
speakers and the spoken Arabic of the present day has 
divided itself into a number of very different dialects. 
It is quite possible for a language which is no longer 
the language of vulgar communication to remain the 
language of scholarship for generations and even for 
centuries. Modern Hebrew has survived for two thou- 
sand years the lack of use of Hebrew in the time of 
Christ, and indeed has come back as a modern lan- 
guage of daily life. In what I am discussing now, I am 
referring only to the limited use of Latin as a language 
of learned men. 

With the coming of the Renaissance, the artistic 
standards of the Latinists became higher, and there 
was more and more a tendency to throw out all post- 
classical neologisms. In the hands of the great Italian 
scholars of the Renaissance, this reformed Latin could 
be, and often was, a work of art; but the training 
necessary to wield such a delicate and refined tool was 
beyond that which would be incidental to the training 
of the scientist, whose main work must always concern 
itself with content rather than with perfection of form. 


The result was that the people who taught Latin and 
the people who used Latin became ever more widely 
separated classes, until the teachers completely es- 
chewed the problem of teaching their disciples any- 
thing but the most polished and unusable Ciceronian 
speech. In this vacuum they ultimately eliminated any 
function for themselves other than that of specialists; 
and as the specialty of Latinism thus came to be less 
and less in general demand, they abolished their own 
function. For this sin of pride, we now have to pay 
in the absence of an adequate international language 
far superior to the artificial ones such as Esperanto, 
and well suited for the demands of the present day. 

Alas, the attitudes of the classicists are often beyond 
the understanding of the intelligent layman! I recently 
had the privilege of hearing a commencement address 
from a classicist who bewailed the increased centrif- 
ugal force of modern learning, which drives the natural 
scientist, the social scientist, and the literary man ever 
farther from one another. He put it into the form of an 
imaginary trip which he took through a modern uni- 
versity, as the guide and mentor to a reincarnated 
Aristotle. His talk began by presenting in the pillory 
bits of technical jargon from each modern intellectual 
field, which he supposed himself to have presented to 
Aristotle as horrible examples. May I remark that all 
we possess of Aristotle is what amounts to the school 
notebooks of his disciples, written in one of the most 
crabbed technical jargons in the history of the world, 
and totally unintelligible to any contemporary Greek 
who had not been through the discipline of the 
Lyceum? That this jargon has been sanctified by his- 
tory, so that it has become itself an object of classical 
education, is not relevant; for this happened after 
Aristotle, not contemporaneously with him. The impor- 
tant thing is that the Greek language of the time of 
Aristotle was ready to compromise with the technical 
jargon of a brilliant scholar, while even the English of 



his learned and reverend successors is not willing to 
compromise with the similar needs of modern speech. 

With these admonitory words, let us return to a mod- 
ern point of view which assimilates the operation of 
linguistic translation and the related operations of the 
interpretation of language by ear and by brain to the 
performance and the coupling of non-human commu- 
nication networks. It will be seen that this is really in 
accordance with the modern and once heretical views 
of Jespersen and his school. Grammar is no longer 
primarily normative. It has become factual. The ques- 
tion is not what code should we use, but what code do 
we use. It is quite true that in the finer study of lan- 
guage, normative questions do indeed come into play, 
and are very delicate. Nevertheless, they represent the 
last fine flower of the communication problem, and not 
its most fundamental stages. 

We have thus established the basis in man for the 
simplest element of his communication: namely, the 
communication of man with man by the immediate use 
of language, when two men are face to face with one 
another. The inventions of the telephone, the tele- 
graph, and other similar means of communication have 
shown that this capacity is not intrinsically restricted 
to the immediate presence of the individual, for we 
have many means to carry this tool of communication 
to the ends of the earth. 

Among primitive groups the size of the community 
for an effective communal life is restricted by the diffi- 
culty of transmitting language. For many millennia, 
this difficulty was enough to reduce the optimum size 
of the state to something of the order of a few million 
people, and generally fewer. It will be noted that the 
great empires which transcended this limited size were 
held together by improved means of communication. 
The heart of the Persian Empire was the Royal Road 
and the relay of messengers who conveyed the Royal 
Word along it. The great empire of Rome was possible 


only because of Rome's progress in roadbuilding. These 
roads served to carry not only the legions, but the 
written authority of the Emperor as well. With the 
airplane and the radio the word of the rulers extends 
to the ends of the earth, and very many of the factors 
which previously precluded a World State have been 
abrogated. It is even possible to maintain that modern 
communication, which forces us to adjudicate the in- 
ternational claims of different broadcasting systems 
and different airplane nets, has made the World State 

But as efficient as communications' mechanisms be- 
come, they are still, as they have always been, subject 
to the overwhelming tendency for entropy to inciease, 
for information to leak in transit, unless certain external 
agents are introduced to control it. I have already re- 
ferred to an interesting view of language made by a 
cybernetically-minded philologist— that speech is a 
joint game by the talker and the listener against the 
forces of confusion. On the basis of this description, 
Dr. Benoit Mandelbrot has made certain computa- 
tions concerning the distribution of the lengths of 
words in an optimal language, and has compared these 
results with what he has found in existing languages. 
Mandelbrot's results indicate that a language optimal 
according to certain postulates will very definitely ex- 
hibit certain distribution of length among words. This 
distribution is very different from what will be found 
in an artificial language, such as Esperanto or Volapiik. 
On the other hand, it. is remarkably close to what is 
found in most actual languages that have withstood 
the attrition of use for centuries. The results of Man- 
delbrot do not, it is true, give an absolutely fixed dis- 
tribution of word lengths; in his formulas there still oc- 
cur certain quantities which must be assigned, or, as 
the mathematician calls them, parameters. However, 
by a proper choice of these parameters, Mandelbrot's 
theoretical results fit very closely the word distribution 
in man/ actual languages, indicating that there is a 



certain natural selection among them, and that the 
form of a language which survives by the very fact of 
its use and survival has been driven to take something 
not too remotely resembling an optimum form of dis- 

The attrition of language may be due to several 
causes. Language may strive simply against nature's 
tendency to confuse it or against willful human at- 
tempts to subvert its meaning. 1 Normal communica- 
tive discourse, whose major opponent is the entropic 
tendency of nature itself, is not confronted by an active 
enemy, conscious of its own purposes. Forensic dis- 
course, on the other hand, such as we find in the law 
court in legislative debates and so on, encounters a 
much more formidable opposition, whose conscious 
aim is to qualify and even to destroy its meaning. Thus 
an adequate theory of language as a game should dis- 
tinguish between these two varieties of language, one 
of which is intended primarily to convey information 
and the other primarily to impose a point of view 
against a willful opposition. I do not know if any 
philologist has yet made the technical observations and 
theoretical propositions which are necessary to dis- 
tinguish these two classes of language for our purposes, 
but I am quite sure that they are substantially differ- 
ent forms. I shall talk further about forensic language 
in a later chapter, which deals with language and law. 

The desire to apply Cybernetics of semantics, as a 
discipline to control the loss of meaning from language, 
has already resulted in certain problems. It seems 
necessary to make some sort of distinction between in- 
formation taken brutally and bluntly, and that sort of 
information on which we as human beings can act 
effectively or, mutatis mutandis, on which the machine 
can act effectively. In my opinion, the central dis- 
tinction and difficulty here arises from the fact that it 

1 Relevant here also is Einstein's aphorism, see Chapter 
II, p. 35 above. 


is not the quantity of information sent that is impor- 
tant for action, but rather the quantity of information 
which can penetrate into a communication and storage 
apparatus sufficiently to serve as the trigger for action. 

I have said that any transmission of, or tampering 
with, messages decreases the amount of information 
they contain, unless new information is fed in, either 
from new sensations or from memories which have 
been previously excluded from the information system. 
This statement, we have seen, is another version of the 
second law of thermodynamics. Now let us consider 
an information system used to control the sort of 
electric power sub-station of which we spoke earlier 
in the chapter. What is important is not merely the 
information that we put into the line, but what is left 
of it when it goes through the final machinery to open 
or close sluices, to synchronize generators, and to do 
similar tasks. In one sense, this terminal apparatus may 
be regarded as a filter superimposed on the trans- 
mission line. Semantically significant information from 
the cybernetic point of view is that which gets through 
the line-plus-filter, rather than that which gets through 
the line alone. In other words, when I hear a passage 
of music, the greater part of the sound gets to my sense 
organs and reaches my brain. However, if I lack the 
perception and training necessary for the aesthetic 
understanding of musical structure, this information 
will meet a block, whereas if I were a trained musician 
it would meet an interpreting structure or organization 
which would exhibit the pattern in a significant form 
which can lead to aesthetic appreciation and further 
understanding. Semantically significant information in 
the machine as well as in man is information which 
gets through to an activating mechanism in the system 
that receives it, despite man's and/or nature's attempts 
to subvert it. From the point of view of Cybernetics, 
semantics defines the extent of meaning and controls 
its loss in a communications system. 



The present chapter will contain an element of 
phantasy. Phantasy has always been at the service of 
philosophy, and Plato was not ashamed to clothe his 
epistemology in the metaphor of the cave. Dr. J. 
Bronowski among others has pointed out that math- 
ematics, which most of us see as the most factual of 
all sciences, constitutes the most colossal metaphor im- 
aginable, and must be judged, aesthetically as well as 
intellectually, in terms of the success of this metaphor. 

The metaphor to which I devote this chapter is one 
in which the organism is seen as message. Organism is 
opposed to chaos, to disintegration, to death, as mes- 
sage is to noise. To describe an organism, we do not try 
to specify each molecule in it, and catalogue it bit by 
bit, but rather to answer certain questions about it 
which reveal its pattern: a pattern which is more sig- 
nificant and less probable as the organism becomes, 
so to speak, more fully an organism. 

We have already seen that certain organisms, such 
as man, tend for a time to maintain and often even to 
increase the level of their organization, as a local en- 
clave in the general stream of increasing entropy, of 
increasing chaos and de-differentiation. Life is an is- 
land here and now in a dying world. The process by 
which we living beings resist the general stream of 
corruption and decay is known as homeostasis. 

We can continue to live in the very special environ- 
ment which we carry forward with us only until we 
begin to decay more quickly than we can reconstitute 


ourselves. Then we die. If our bodily temperature rises 
or sinks one degree from its normal level of 98.6° 
Fahrenheit, we begin to take notice of it, and if it rises 
or sinks ten degrees, we are all but sure to die. The 
oxygen and carbon dioxide and salt in our blood, the 
hormones flowing from our ductless glands, are all 
regulated by mechanisms which tend to resist any un- 
toward changes in their levels. These mechanisms con- 
stitute what is known as homeostasis, and are negative 
feedback mechanisms of a type that we may find ex- 
emplified in mechanical automata. 

It is the pattern maintained by this homeostasis, 
which is the touchstone of our personal identity. Our 
tissues change as we live: the food we eat and the air 
we breathe become flesh of our flesh and bone of our 
bone, and the momentary elements of our flesh and 
bone pass out of our body every day with our excreta. 
We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water. 
We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpet- 
uate themselves. 

A pattern is a message, and may be transmitted as 
a message. How else do we employ our radio than to 
transmit patterns of sound, and our television set 
than to transmit patterns of light? It is amusing as well 
as instructive to consider what would happen if we 
were to transmit the whole pattern of the human body, 
of the human brain with its memories and cross connec- 
tions, so that a hypothetical receiving instrument could 
re-embody these messages in appropriate matter, ca- 
pable of continuing the processes already in the body 
and the mind, and of maintaining the integrity needed 
for this continuation by a process of homeostasis. 

Let us invade the realm of science fiction. Some 
forty-five years ago, Kipling wrote a most remarkable 
little story. This was at the time when the flights of 
the Wright brothers had become familiar to the world, 
but before aviation was an everyday matter. He called 
this story "With the Night Mail," and it purports to be 



an account of a world like that of today, when aviation 
should have become a matter of course and the At- 
lantic a lake to be crossed in one night. He supposed 
that aerial travel had so united the world that war was 
obsolete, and that all the world's really important af- 
fairs were in the hands of an Aerial Board of Control, 
whose primary responsibility extended to air traffic, 
while its secondary responsibility extended to "all that 
that implies." In this way, he imagined that the various 
local authorities had gradually been compelled to drop 
their rights, or had allowed their local rights to lapse; 
and that the central authority of the Aerial Board of 
Control had taken these responsibilities over. It is 
rather a fascist picture which Kipling gives us, and 
this is understandable in view of his intellectual pre- 
suppositions, even though fascism is not a necessary 
condition of the situation which he envisages. His mil- 
lennium is the millennium of a British colonel back 
from India. Moreover, with his love for the gadget as 
a collection of wheels that rotate and make a noise, he 
has emphasized the extended physical transportation 
of man, rather than the transportation of language and 
ideas. He does not seem to realize that where a man's 
word goes, and where his power of perception goes, to 
that point his control and in a sense his physical ex- 
istence is extended. To see and to give commands to 
the whole world is almost the same as being every- 
where. Given his limitations Kipling, nevertheless, had 
a poet's insight, and the situation he foresaw seems 
rapidly coming to pass. 

To see the greater importance of the transportation 
of information as compared with mere physical trans- 
portation, let us suppose that we have an architect in 
Europe supervising the construction of a building in 
the United States. I am assuming, of course, an ade- 
quate working staff of constructors, clerks of the works, 
etc., on the site of the construction. Under these con- 
ditions, even without transmitting or receiving any 


material commodities, the architect may take an active 
part in the construction of the building. Let him draw 
up his plans and specifications as usual. Even at pres- 
ent, there is no reason why the working copies of these 
plans and specifications must be transmitted to the con- 
struction site on the same paper on which they have 
been drawn up in the architect's drafting-room. Ultra- 
fax gives a means by which a facsimile of all the 
documents concerned may be transmitted in a fraction 
of a second, and the received copies are quite as good 
working plans as the originals. The architect may be 
kept up to date with the progress of the work by photo- 
graphic records taken every day or several times a day; 
and these may be forwarded back to him by Ultrafax. 
Any remarks or advice he cares to give his representa- 
tive on the job may be transmitted by telephone, 
Ultrafax, or teletypewriter. In short, the bodily trans- 
mission of the architect and his documents may be 
replaced very effectively by the message-transmission 
of communications which do not entail the moving of 
a particle of matter from one end of the line to the 

If we consider the two types of communication: 
namely, material transport, and transport of informa- 
tion alone, it is at present possible for a person to go 
from one place to another only by the former, and not 
as a message. However, even now the transportation of 
messages serves to forward an extension of man's 
senses and his capabilities of action from one end of 
the world to another. We have already suggested in 
this chapter that the distinction between material 
transportation and message transportation is not in any 
theoretical sense permanent and unbridgeable. 

This takes us very deeply into the question of human 
individuality. The problem of the nature of human in- 
dividuality and of the barrier which separates one 
personality from another is as old as history. The Chris- 
tian religion and its Mediterranean antecedents have 



embodied it in the notion of soul. The individual pos- 
sesses a soul, so say the Christians, which has come 
into being by the act of conception, but which will 
continue in existence for all eternity, either among the 
Blessed or among the Damned, or in one of the little 
intermediate lacunae of Limbo which the Christian 
faith allows. 

The Buddhists follow a tradition which agrees with 
the Christian tradition in giving to the soul a continuity 
after death, but this continuity is in the body of another 
animal or another human being, rather than in some 
Heaven or Hell. There are indeed Buddhist Heavens 
and Hells, although the stay of the individual there is 
generally temporary. In the most final Heaven of the 
Buddhists, however, the state of Nirvana, the soul loses 
its separate identity and is absorbed into the Great 
Soul of the World. 

These views have been without the benefit of the 
influence of science. The most interesting early scien- 
tific account of the continuity of the soul is Leibnitz's 
which conceives the soul as belonging to a larger class 
of permanent spiritual substances which he called 
monads. These monads spend their whole existence 
from the creation on in the act of perceiving one an- 
other; although some perceive with great clarity and 
distinctness, and others in a blurred and conf used man- 
ner. This perception does not however represent any 
true interaction of the monads. The monads "have no 
windows," and have been wound up by God at the 
creation of the world so that they shall maintain their 
foreordained relationships with one another through all 
eternity. They are indestructible. 

Behind Leibnitz's philosophical views of the monads 
there lie some very interesting biological speculations. 
It was in Leibnitz's time that Leeuwenhoek first ap- 
plied the simple microscope to the study of very mi- 
nute animals and plants. Among the animals that he 
saw were spermatozoa. In the mammal, spermatozoa 



are infinitely easier to find and to see than ova. The 
human ova are emitted one at a time, and unfertilized 
uterine ova or very early embryos were until recently 
rarities in the anatomical collections. Thus the early 
miscroscopists were under the very natural temptation 
to regard the spermatozoon as the only important ele- 
ment in the development of the young, and to ignore 
entirely the possibility of the as yet unobserved phe- 
nomenon of fertilization. Furthermore, their imagina- 
tion displayed to them in the front segment or head of 
the spermatozoon a minute fetus, rolled up with head 
forward. This fetus was supposed to contain in itself 
spermatozoa which were to develop into the next 
generation of fetuses and adults, and so on ad infinitum. 
The female was supposed to be merely the nurse of 
the spermatozoon. 

Of course, from the modern point of view, this biol- 
ogy is simply false. The spermatozoon and the ovum 
are nearly equal participants in determining individual 
heredity. Furthermore, the germ cells of the future 
generation are contained in them in posse, and not 
in esse. Matter is not infinitely divisible, nor indeed 
from any absolute standpoint is it very finely divisible; 
and the successive diminutions required to form the 
Leeuwenhoek spermatozoon of a moderately high or- 
der would very quickly lead us down beyond elec- 
tronic levels. 

In the view now prevalent, as opposed to the 
Leibnitzian view, the continuity of an individual has a 
very definite beginning in time, but it may even have 
a termination in time quite apart from the death of the 
individual. It is well known that the first cell division 
of the fertilized ovum of a frog leads to two cells, which 
can be separated under appropriate conditions. If they 
are so separated, each will grow into a complete frog. 
This is nothing but the normal phenomenon of identi- 
cal twinning in a case in which the anatomical accessi- 
bility of the embryo is sufficient to permit 



experimentation. It is exactly what occurs in human 
identical twins, and is the normal phenomenon in those 
armadillos that bear a set of identical quadruplets at 
each birth. It is the phenomenon, moreover, which 
gives rise to double monsters, when the separation of 
the two parts of the embryo is incomplete. 

This problem of twinning may not however appear 
as important at first sight as it really is, because it does 
not concern animals or human beings with what may 
be considered well-developed minds and souls. Not 
even the problem of the double monster, the imper- 
fectly separated twins, is too serious in this respect. 
Viable double monsters must always have either a 
single central nervous system or a well-developed pair 
of separate brains. The difficulty arises at another level 
in the problem of split personalities. 

A generation ago, Dr. Morton Prince of Harvard 
gave the case history of a girl, within whose body sev- 
eral better-or-worse-developed personalities seemed to 
succeed one another, and even to a certain extent to 
coexist. It is the fashion nowadays for the psychiatrists 
to look down their noses a little bit when Dr. Prince's 
work is mentioned, and to attribute the phenomenon 
to hysteria. It is quite possible that the separation of 
the personalities was never as complete as Prince some- 
times appears to have thought it to be, but for all that 
it was a separation. The word "hysteria" refers to a 
phenomenon well observed by the doctors, but so little 
explained that it may be considered but another ques- 
tion-begging epithet. 

One thing at any rate is clear. The physical identity 
of an individual does not consist in the matter of which 
it is made. Modern methods of tagging the elements 
participating in metabolism have shown a much higher 
turnover than was long thought possible, not only of 
the body as a whole, but of each and every component 
i part of it. The biological individuality of an organism 
seems to lie in a certain continuity of process, and in 


the memory by the organism of the effects of its past 
development. This appears to hold also of its mental 
development. In terms of the computing machine, the 
individuality of a mind lies in the retention of its earlier 
tapings and memories, and in its continued develop- 
ment along lines already laid out. 

Under these conditions, just as a computing machine 
may be used as a pattern on which to tape other com- 
puting machines, and just as the future development 
of these two machines will continue parallel except for 
future changes in taping and experience, so too, there 
is no inconsistency in a living individual forking or 
divaricating into two individuals sharing the same past, 
but growing more and more different. This is what hap- 
pens with identical twins; but there is no reason why 
it could not happen with what we call the mind, with- 
out a similar split of the body. To use computing-ma- 
chine language again, at some stage a machine which 
was previously assembled in an all-over manner may 
find its connections divided into partial assemblies 
with a higher or lower degree of independence. This 
would be a conceivable explanation of Prince's observa- 

Moreover, it is thinkable that two large machines 
which had previously not been coupled may become 
coupled so as to work from that stage on as a single 
machine. Indeed this sort of thing occurs in the union 
of the germ cells, although perhaps not on what we 
would ordinarily call a purely mental level. The mental 
identity necessary for the Church's view of the indi- 
viduality of the soul certainly does not exist in any 
absolute sense which would be acceptable to the 

To recapitulate: the individuality of the body is that 
I of a flame rather than that of a stone, of a form rather 
than of a bit of substance. This form can be trans- 
mitted or modified and duplicated, although at present 
we know only how to duplicate it over a short distance. 


When one cell divides into two, or when one of the 
genes which carries our corporeal and mental birth- 
right is split in order to make ready for a reduction 
division of a germ cell, we have a separation in matter 
which is conditioned by the power of a pattern of living 
tissue to duplicate itself. Since this is so, there is no 
absolute distinction between the types of transmission 
which we can use for sending a telegram from country 
to country and the types of transmission which at least 
are theoretically possible for transmitting a living or- 
ganism such as a human being. 

Let us then admit that the idea that one might con- 
ceivably travel by telegraph, in addition to traveling 
by train or airplane, is not intrinsically absurd, far as 
it may be from realization. The difficulties are, of 
course, enormous. It is possible to evaluate something 
like the amount of significant information conveyed by 
all the genes in a germ cell, and thereby to determine 
the amount of hereditary information, as compared 
with learned information, that a human being pos- 
sesses. In order for this message to be significant at all, 
it must convey at least as much information as an entire 
set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In fact if we com- 
pare the number of asymmetric carbon atoms in all 
the molecules of a germ cell with the number of dots 
and dashes needed to code the Encyclopedia Britan- 
nica, we find that they constitute an even more enor- 
mous message; and this is still more impressive when 
we realize what the conditions for telegraphic trans- 
mission of such a message must be. Any scanning of 
the human organism must be a probe going through 
all its parts, and will, accordingly, tend to destroy the 
tissue on its way. To hold an organism stable while part 
of it is being slowly destroyed, with the intention of 
re-creating it out of other material elsewhere, involves 
a lowering of its degree of activity, which in most cases 
would destroy life in the tissue. 

In other words, the fact that we cannot telegraph the 


pattern of a man from one place to another seems to 
be due to technical difficulties, and in particular, to the 
difficulty of keeping an organism in being during such 
a radical reconstruction. The idea itself is highly plau- 
sible. As for the problem of the radical reconstruction 
of the living organism, it would be hard to find any 
such reconstruction much more radical than that of a 
butterfly during its period as a pupa. 

I have stated these things, not because I want to 
write a science fiction story concerning itself with the 
possibility of telegraphing a man, but because it may 
! help us understand that the fundamental idea of com- 
munication is that of the transmission of messages, and 
that the bodily transmission of matter and messages is 
only one conceivable way of attaining that end. It will 
be well to reconsider Kipling's test of the importance 
of traffic in the modern world from the point of view 
of a traffic which is overwhelmingly not so much the 
transmission of human bodies as the transmission of 
human information. 



Law may be defined as the ethical control applied 
to communication, and to language as a form of com- 
munication, especially when this normative aspect is 
under the control of some authority sufficiently strong 
to give its decisions an effective social sanction. It is 
the process of adjusting the "couplings" connecting the 
behavior of different individuals in such a way that 
what we call justice may be accomplished, and dis- 
putes may be avoided, or at least adjudicated. Thus 
the theory and practice of the law involves two sets 
of problems: those of its general purpose, of its con- 
ception of justice; and those of the technique by which 
these concepts of justice can be made effective. 

Empirically, the concepts of justice which men have 
maintained throughout history are as varied as the re- 
ligions of the world, or the cultures recognized by 
anthropologists. I doubt if it is possible to justify them 
by any higher sanction than our moral code itself, 
which is indeed only another name for our conception 
of justice. As a participant in a liberal outlook which 
has its main roots in the Western tradition, but which 
has extended itself to those Eastern countries which 
have a strong intellectual-moral tradition, and has in- 
deed borrowed deeply from them, I can only state what 
I myself and those about me consider necessary for the 
existence of justice. The best words to express these 
requirements are those of the French Revolution: 
Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. These mean: the liberty 
of each human being to develop in his freedom the full 


measure of the human possibilities embodied in him; 
the equality by which what is just for A and B remains 
just when the positions of A and B are interchanged; 
and a good will between man and man that knows no 
limits short of those of humanity itself. These great 
principles of justice mean and demand that no person, 
by virtue of the personal strength of his position, shall > 
enforce a sharp bargain by duress. What compulsion 
the very existence of the community and the state may 
demand must be exercised in such a way as to produce 
no unnecessary infringement of freedom. 

But not even the greatest human decency and liber- 
alism will, in itself, assure a fair and administrable legal 
code. Besides the general principles of justice, the law 
must be so clear and reproducible that the individual 
citizen can assess his rights and duties in advance, even 
where they appear to conflict with those of others. He 
must be able to ascertain with a reasonable certainty 
what view a judge or a jury will take of his position. 
If he cannot do this, the legal code, no matter how 
well intended, will not enable him to lead a life free 
from litigation and confusion. 

Let us look at the matter from the simplest point of 
view— that of the contract. Here A takes on a responsi- 
bility of performing a certain service which in general 
will be advantageous to B; whereas B assumes in re- 
turn the responsibility of performing a service or 
making a payment advantageous to A. If it is unam- 
biguously clear what each task and each payment is 
to be, and if one of the parties does not invoke methods 
of imposing his will on the other party which are for- 
eign to the contract itself, then the determination of 
whether the bargain is equitable may safely be left 
to the judgment of the two contracting parties. If it 
is manifestly inequitable, at least one of the contract- 
ing parties may be supposed to be in the position of 
being able to reject the bargain altogether. What, how- 
ever, they cannot be expected to settle with any justice 


among themselves is the meaning of the bargain if 
the terms employed have no established significance, 
or if the significance varies from court to court. Thus 
it is the first duty of the law to see that the obligations 
and rights given to an individual in a certain stated 
situation be unambiguous. Moreover, there should be 
a body of legal interpretation which is as far as pos- 
sible independent of the will and the interpretation 
of the particular authorities consulted. Reproducibility 
is prior to equity, for without it there can be no equity. 

It appears from this why precedent has a very im- 
portant theoretical weight in most legal systems, and 
why in all legal systems it has an important practical 
weight. There are those legal systems which purport 
to be based on certain abstract principles of justice. 
The Roman law and its descendants, which indeed 
constitute the greater part of the law of the European 
continent, belong to this class. There are other systems 
like that of the English law, in which it is openly stated 
that precedent is the main basis of legal thought. In 
either case, no new legal term has a completely secure 
meaning until it and its limitations have been deter- 
mined in practice; and this is a matter of precedent. 
To fly in the face of a decision which has been made 
in an already existing case is to attack the uniqueness 
of the interpretation of legal language and is ipso facto 
a cause of indeterminateness and very probably of a 
consequent injustice. Every case decided should ad- 
vance the definition of the legal terms involved in a 
manner consistent with past decisions, and it should 
lead naturally on to new ones. Every piece of phrase- 
ology should be tested by the custom of the place and 
of the field of human activity to which it is relevant. 
The judges, those to whom is confided the task of the 
interpretation of the law, should perform their function 
in such a spirit that if Judge A is replaced by Judge B, 
the exchange cannot be expected to make a material 
change in the court's interpretation of customs and of 


statutes. This naturally must remain to some extent a 
ideal rather than a fait accompli; but unless we ar 
close followers of these ideals, we shall have chaos, an 
what is worse, a no-man's land in which dishonest me 
prey on the differences in possible interpretation c 
the statutes. 

All of this is very obvious in the matter of contract; 
but in fact it extends quite far into other branches c 
the law, and particularly of the civil law. Let me giv 
an example. A, because of the carelessness of an em 
ployee B, damages a piece of property belonging to C 
Who is to take the loss, and in what proportion? ] 
these matters are known equally in advance to every 
body, then it is possible for the person normally takin 
the greatest risk to charge a greater price for his undei 
takings and thus to insure himself. By these means h 
may cancel some considerable part of his disadvantagt 
The general effect of this is to spread the loss over th 
community, so that no man's share of it shall be ruinous 
Thus the law of torts tends to partake somewhat o 
the same nature as the law of contracts. Any legal re 
sponsibility which involves exorbitant possibilities o 
loss will generally make the person incurring the los 
pass his risk on to the community at large in the fori] 
of an increased price for his goods, or increased fee 
for his services. Here, as well as in the case of contracts 
unambiguity, precedent, and a good clear tradition o 
interpretation are worth more than a theoretical equity 
particularly in the assessment of responsibilities. 

There are, of course, exceptions to these statements 
For example, the old law of imprisonment for deb 
was inequitable in that it put the individual respon 
sible for paying the debt in exactly that position ii 
which he was least capable of acquiring the means ti 
pay. There are many laws at present which are 
equitable, because, for example, they assume a 
dom of choice on the part of one party which 
existing social circumstances is not there. What ha 


been said about imprisonment for debt is equally valid 
in the case of peonage, and of many other similarly 
abused social customs. 

If we are to carry out a philosophy of liberty, equal- 
ity a nc ^ fraternity, then in addition to the demand that 
legal responsibility should be unambiguous, we must 
add the demand that it should not be of such a nature 
that one party acts under duress, leaving the other 
free. The history of our dealings with the Indians is 
full of instances in point, both for the dangers of duress 
and the dangers of ambiguity. From the very early 
times of the colonies, the Indians had neither the bulk 
of population nor the equality of arms to meet the 
whites on a fair basis, especially when the so-called land 
treaties between the whites and the Indians were be- 
ing negotiated. Besides this gross injustice, there was a 
semantic injustice, which was perhaps even greater. 
The Indians as a hunting people had no idea of land 
as private property. For them there was no such own- 
ership as ownership in fee simple, though they did 
have the notion of hunting rights over specific terri- 
tories. In their treaties with the settlers, what they 
wished to convey were hunting rights, and generally 
only concomitant hunting rights over certain regions. 
On the other hand, the whites believed, if we are to 
give their conduct the most favorable interpretation 
that can be assigned to it, that the Indians were con- 
veying to them a title to ownership in fee simple. 
Under these circumstances, not even a semblance of 
justice was possible, nor did it exist. 

Where the law of Western countries is at present 
least satisfactory is on the criminal side. Law seems to 
consider punishment, now as a threat to discourage 
other possible criminals, now as a ritual act of expiation 
on the part of the guilty man, now as a device for 
removing him from society and for protecting the latter 
from the danger of repeated misconduct, and now as 
an agency for the social and the moral reform of the 


individual. These are four different tasks, to be ac- 
complished by four different methods; and unless we 
know an accurate way of proportioning them, our 
whole attitude to the criminal will be at cross-purposes. 
At present, the criminal law speaks now in one lan- 
guage, and now in another. Until we in the community 
have made up our minds that what we really want is 
expiation, or removal, or reform, or the discourage- 
ment of potential criminals, we shall get none of these, 
but only a confusion in which crime breeds more crime. 
Any code which is made, one-fourth on the eighteenth- 
century British prejudice in favor of hanging, one- 
fourth on the removal of the criminal from society, 
one-fourth on a halfhearted policy of reform, and one- 
fourth on the policy of hanging up a dead crow to 
scare away the rest, is going to get us precisely nowhere. 

Let us put it this way: the first duty of the law, what- 
ever the second and third ones are, is to know what it 
wants. The first duty of the legislator or the judge is to 
make clear, unambiguous statements, which not only 
experts, but the common man of the times will in- 
terpret in one way and in one way only. The technique 
of the interpretation of past judgments must be such 
that a lawyer should know, not only what a court has 
said, but even with high probability what the court is 
going to say. Thus the problems of law may be con- 
sidered communicative and cybernetic— that is, they 
are problems of orderly and repeatable control of cer- 
tain critical situations. 

There are vast fields of law where there is no satis- 
factory semantic agreement between what the law in- 
tends to say, and the actual situation that it contem- 
plates. Whenever such a theoretical agreement fails to 
exist, we shall have the same sort of no-man's land that 
faces us when we have two currency systems without 
an accepted basis of exchange. In the zone of uncon- 
formity between one court and another or one coinage 
and another, there is always a refuge for the dishonest 



middleman, who will accept payment neither finan- 
cially nor morally except in the system most favorable 
to him, and will give it only in the system in which he 
sacrifices least. The greatest opportunity of the crim- 
inal in the modern community lies in this position as a 
dishonest broker in the interstices of the law. I have 
pointed out in an earlier chapter that noise, regarded as 
a confusing factor in human communications, is dam- 
aging but not consciously malicious. This is true as far 
as scientific communication goes, and to a large extent 
in ordinary conversation between two people. It is 
most emphatically not true in language as it is used in 
the law courts. 

The whole nature of our legal system is that of a 
conflict. It is a conversation in which at least three 
parties take part— let us say, in a civil case, the plain- 
tiff, the defendant, and the legal system as represented 
by judge and jury. It is a game in the full Von Neumann 
sense; a game in which the litigants try by methods 
which are limited by the code of law to obtain the 
judge and the jury as their partners. In such a game 
the opposing lawyer, unlike nature itself, can and 
deliberately does try to introduce confusion into the 
messages of the side he is opposing. He tries to reduce 
their statements to nonsense, and he deliberately jams 
the messages between his antagonist and the judge and 
jury. In this jamming, it is inevitable that bluff should 
occasionally be at a premium. Here we do not need to 
take the Erie Stanley Gardner detective stories at 
their face value as descriptions of legal procedure to 
see that there are occasions in litigation where bluff 
or the sending of messages with a deliberate purpose of 
concealing the strategy of the sender is not only per- 
mitted but encouraged. 



In the world of affairs, the last few years have been 
characterized by two opposite, even contradictory, 
trends. On the one hand, we have a network of com- 
munication, intranational and international, more com- 
plete than history has ever before seen. On the other 
hand, under the impetus of Senator McCarthy and his 
imitators, the blind and excessive classification of 
military information, and the recent attacks on the 
State Department, we are approaching a secretive 
frame of mind paralleled in history only in the Venice 
of the Renaissance. 

There the extraordinarily precise news-gathering 
services of the Venetian ambassadors ( which form one 
of our chief sources of European history) accompanied 
a national jealousy of secrets, exaggerated to such an 
extent that the state ordered the private assassination 
of emigrant artisans, to maintain the monopoly of cer- 
tain chosen arts and crafts. The modern game of cops 
and robbers which seems to characterize both Russia 
and the United States, the two principal contestants 
for world power of this century, suggests the old 
Italian cloak-and-dagger melodrama played on a much 
larger stage. 

The Italy of the Renaissance was also the scene of 
the birth-pangs of modern science. However, the sci- 
ence of the present day is a much larger undertaking 
than that of Renaissance Italy. It should be possible to 
examine all the elements of information and secrecy in 



the modern world with a somewhat greater maturity 
and objectivity than belong to the thought of the times 
of Machiavelli. This is particularly so in view of the 
fact that, as we have seen, the study of communication 
has now reached a degree of independence and au- 
thority making it a science in its own right. What does 
modern science have to say concerning the status and 
functions of communication and secrecy? 

I am writing this book primarily for Americans in 
whose environment questions of information will be 
evaluated according to a standard American criterion: 
a thing is valuable as a commodity for what it will 
bring in the open market. This is the official doctrine 
of an orthodoxy which it is becoming more and more 
perilous for a resident of the United States to question. 
It is perhaps worth while to point out that it does not 
represent a universal basis of human values: that it 
corresponds neither to the doctrine of the Church, 
which seeks for the salvation of the human soul, nor to 
that of Marxism, which values a society for its reali- 
zation of certain specific ideals of human well-being. 
The fate of information in the typically American 
world is to become something which can be bought 
or sold. 

It is not my business to cavil whether this mercan- 
tile attitude is moral or immoral, crass or subtle. It is 
my business to show that it leads to the misunder- 
standing and the mistreatment of information and its 
associated concepts. I shall take this up in several 
fields, beginning with that of patent law. 

The letters patent granting to an inventor a limited 
monopoly over the subject matter of his invention are 
for him what a charter is to a chartered company. 
Behind our patent law and our patent policy is an \ 
implicit philosophy of private property and of the 
rights thereto. This philosophy represented a fairly 
close approximation to the actual situation in the now 
ending period when inventions were generally made 


in the shop by skilled handicraftsmen. It does not rep- 
resent even a passable picture of the inventions of the 
present day. 

The standard philosophy of the patent office pre- < 
supposes that by a system of trial and error, implying 
what is generally called mechanical ingenuity, a crafts- 
man has advanced from a given technique to a 
stage, embodied in a specific apparatus. The law dis- 
tinguishes the ingenuity which is necessary to make 
this new combination from the other sort of ingenuity 
which is necessary to find out scientific facts about the 
world. This second sort of ingenuity is labeled the dis- 
covery of a law of nature; and in the United States, 
as well as in many other countries with similar in- 
dustrial practices, the legal code denies to the dis- 
coverer any property rights in a law of nature which 
he may have discovered. It will be seen that at one 
time this distinction was fairly practical, for the shop 
inventor has one sort of tradition and background, and 
the man of science has a totally different one. 

The Daniel Doyce of Dickens' Little Dorrit, is clearly 
not to be mistaken for the members of the Mudfog 
Association which Dickens treats elsewhere. The first, 
Dickens glorifies as the common sense craftsman, with 
the broad thumb of the hand worker, and the honesty 
of the man who is always facing facts; whereas the 
Mudfog Association is nothing but a derogatory alias 
for the British Association for the Advancement of 
Science in its early days. Dickens reviles the latter as 
an assemblage of chimerical and useless dreamers, in 
language which Swift would not have found inadequate 
to describe the projectors of Laputa. 

Now a modern research laboratory such as that of 
the Bell Telephone Company, while it retains Doyce's 
practicality, actually consists of the great-grandchil- 
dren of the Mudfog Association. If we take Faraday as 
an outstanding yet typical member of the early British 
Association for the Advancement of Science, the chain 



to the research men of the Bell Telephone Laborato- 
r i eS of the present day is complete, by way of Maxwell 
and Heaviside, to Campbell and Shannon. 

In the early days of modern invention, science was 
far ahead of the workman. The locksmith set the level 
of mechanical competence. A piston was considered 
to fit an engine-cylinder when, according to Watt, a 
thin sixpence could just be slipped between the two. 
Steel was a craftsman's product, for swords and armor; 
iron was the stringy, slag-filled product of the puddler. 
Daniel Doyce had a long way indeed to go before so 
practical a scientist as Faraday could begin to supplant 
him. It is not strange that the policy of Great Britain, 
even when expressed through such a purblind organ 
as Dickens' Circumlocution Office, was directed to- 
ward Doyce as the true inventor, rather than to the 
gentlemen of the Mudfog Society. The Barnacle family 
of hereditary bureaucrats might wear Doyce to a 
shadow, before they ceased to refer him from office to 
office, but they secretly feared him, as the representa- 
tive of the new industrialism which was displacing 
them. They neither feared, respected, nor understood 
the gentlemen of the Mudfog Association. 

In the United States, Edison represents the precise 
transition between the Doyces and the men of the 
Mudfog Association. He was himself very much of a 
Doyce, and was even more desirous of appearing to be 
one. Nevertheless, he chose much of his staff from the 
Mudfog camp. His greatest invention was that of the 
industrial research laboratory, turning out inventions 
as a business. The General Electric Company, the 
Westinghouse interests, and the Bell Telephone Lab- 
oratories followed in his footsteps, employing scien- 
tists by hundreds where Edison employed them by 
tens. Invention came to mean, not the gadget-insight 
of a shop-worker, but the result of a careful, compre- 
hensive search by a team of competent scientists. 

At present, the invention is losing its identity as a 


commodity in the face of the general intellectual 
structure of emergent inventions. What makes a thing 
a good commodity? Essentially, that it can pass from 
hand to hand with the substantial retention of its value, 
and that the pieces of this commodity should combine 
additively in the same way as the money paid for 
them. The power to conserve itself is a very convenient 
property for a good commodity to have. For example, 
a given amount of electrical energy, except for minute 
losses, is the same at both ends of a transmission line, 
and the problem of putting a fair price on electric 
energy in kilowatt-hours is not too difficult. A similar 
situation applies to the law of the conservation of mat- 
ter. Our ordinary standards of value are quantities of l 
gold, which is a particularly stable sort of matter. 

Information, on the other hand, cannot be conserved 
as easily, for as we have already seen the amount of 
information communicated is related to the non-addi- 
tive quantity known as entropy and differs from it by 
its algebraic sign and a possible numerical factor. Just 
as entropy tends to increase spontaneously in a closed 
system, so information tends to decrease; just as en- 
tropy is a measure of disorder, so information is a 
measure of order. Information and entropy are not con- 
served, and are equally unsuited to being commod- 

In considering information or order from the eco- 
nomic point of view, let us take as an example a piece 
of gold jewelry. The value is composed of two parts: 
the value of the gold, and that of the "f agon," or work- 
manship. When an old piece of jewelry is taken to the 
pawnbroker or the appraiser, the firm value of the 
piece is that of the gold only. Whether a further allow- 
ance is made for the fagon or not depends on many 
factors, such as the persistence of the seller, the style 
in favor when it was made, the purely artistic crafts- 
manship, the historical value of the piece for museum 
purposes, and the resistance of the buyer. 



Many a fortune has been lost by ignoring the differ- 
ence between these two types of values, that of the 
gold and that of the f agon. The stamp market, the rare- 
book market, the market for Sandwich glass and for 
Duncan Phyfe furniture are all artificial, in the sense 
that in addition to the real pleasure which the posses- 
sion of such an object gives to its owner, much of the 
value of the facon pertains not only to the rarity of the 
object itself, but to the momentary existence of an ac- 
tive group of buyers competing for it. A depression, 
which limits the group of possible buyers, may divide 
it by a factor of four or five, and a great treasure van- 
ishes into nothing just for want of a competitive pur- 
chaser. Let another new popular craze supplant the 
old in the attention of the prospective collectors, and 
again the bottom may drop out of the market. There is 
no permanent common denominator of collectors' taste, 
at least until one approaches the highest level of aes- 
thetic value. Even then the prices paid for great paint- 
ings are colossal reflections of the desire of the 
purchaser for the reputation of wealth and connois- 

The problem of the work of art as a commodity raises 
a large number of questions important in the theory of 
information. In the first place, except in the case of the 
narrowest sort of collector who keeps all his possessions 
under permanent lock and key, the physical possession 
of a work of art is neither sufficient nor necessary for 
the benefits of appreciation which it conveys. Indeed, 
there are certain sorts of works of art which are es- 
sentially public rather than private in their appeal, and 
concerning which the problem of possession is almost 
irrelevant. A great fresco is scarcely a negotiable docu- 
ment, nor for that matter is the building on whose walls 
it is placed. Whoever is technically the possessor of 
such works of art must share them at least with the 
limited public that frequents the buildings, and very 
often with the world at large. He cannot place them 


in a fireproof cabinet and gloat over them at a small 
dinner for a few connoisseurs, nor shut them up alto- 
gether as private possessions. There are very few fres- 
coes which are given the adventitious privacy of the 
one by Siqueiros which adorns a large wall of the Mex- 
ican jail where he served a sentence for a political 

So much for the mere physical possession of a work 
of art. The problems of property in art lie much deeper. 
Let us consider the matter of the reproduction of ar- 
tistic works. It is without a doubt true that the finest 
flower of artistic appreciation is only possible with orig- 
inals, but it is equally true that a broad and culti- 
vated taste may be built up by a man who has never 
seen an original of a great work, and that by far the 
greater part of the aesthetic appeal of an artistic cre- 
ation is transmitted in competent reproductions. The 
case of music is similar. While the hearer gains some- 
thing very important in the appreciation of a musical 
composition if he is physically present at the perform- 
ance, nevertheless his preparation for an understand- 
ing of this performance will be so greatly enhanced by 
hearing good records of the composition that it is hard 
to say which of the two is the larger experience. 

From the standpoint of property, reproduction- 
rights are covered by our copyright law. There are 
other rights which no copyright law can cover, which 
almost equally raise the question of the capacity of 
any man to own an artistic creation in an effective 
sense. Here the problem of the nature of genuine orig- 
inality arises. For example, during the period of the 
high Renaissance, the discovery by the artists of ge- 
ometric perspective was new, and an artist was able 
to give great pleasure by the skillful exploitation of this 
element in the world about him. Diirer, Da Vinci, and 
their contemporaries exemplify the interest which the 
leading artistic minds of the time found in this new 
device. As the art of perspective is one which, once 


mastered, rapidly loses its interest, the same thing that 
was great in the hands of its originators is now at the 
disposal of every sentimental commercial artist who de- 
signs trade calendars. 

What has been said before may not be worth saying 
again; and the informative value of a painting or a 
piece of literature cannot be judged without knowing 
what it contains that is not easily available to the public 
in contemporary or earlier works. It is only independ- 
ent information which is even approximately additive. 
The derivative information of the second-rate copyist 
is far from independent of what has gone before. Thus 
the conventional love story, the conventional detec- 
tive story, the average acceptable success tale of the 
slicks, all are subject to the letter but not the spirit of 
the law of copyright. There is no form of copyright law 
that prevents a movie success from being followed by 
a stream of inferior pictures exploiting the second and 
third layers of the public's interest in the same emo- 
tional situation. Neither is there a way of copyrighting 
a new mathematical idea, or a new theory such as that 
of natural selection, or anything except the identical 
reproduction of the same idea in the same words. 

I repeat, the prevalence of cliches is no accident, but 
inherent in the nature of information. Property rights 
in information suffer from the necessary disadvantage 
that a piece of information, in order to contribute to 
the general information of the community, must say 
something substantially different from the community's 
previous common stock of information. Even in the 
great classics of literature and art, much of the obvious 
informative value has gone out of them, merely by the 
fact that the public has become acquainted with their 
contents. Schoolboys do not like Shakespeare, because 
he seems to them nothing but a mass of familiar quo- 
tations. It is only when the study of such an author has 
penetrated to a layer deeper than that which has been 
absorbed into the superficial cliches of the time, that 


we can re-establish with him an informative rapport, 
and give him a new and fresh literary value. 

It is interesting from this point of view that there 
are authors and painters who, by their wide exploration 
of the aesthetic and intellectual avenues open to a 
given age, have an almost destructive influence on 
their contemporaries and successors for many years. A 
painter like Picasso, who runs through many periods 
and phases, ends up by saying all those things which 
are on the tip of the tongue of the age to say, and 
finally sterilizes the originality of his contemporaries 
and juniors. 

The intrinsic limitations of the commodity nature of 
communication are hardly considered by the public at 
large. The man in the street considers that Maecenas 
had as his function the purchase and storage of works 
of art, rather than the encouragement of their creation 
by the artists of his own time. In a quite analogous way, 
he believes that it is possible to store up the military 
and scientific know-how of the nation in static libraries 
and laboratories, just as it is possible to store up the 
military weapons of the last war in the arsenals. In- 
deed, he goes further, and considers that information 
which has been developed in the laboratories of his 
own country is morally the property of that country; 
and that the use of this information by other national- 
ities not only may be the result of treason, but intrinsi- 
cally partakes of the nature of theft. He cannot con- 
ceive of a piece of information without an owner. 

The idea that information can be stored in a chang- 
ing world without an overwhelming depreciation in its 
value is false. It is scarcely less false than the more 
plausible claim, that after a war we may take our exist- 
ing weapons, fill their barrels with cylinder oil, and 
coat their outsides with sprayed rubber film, and let 
them statically await the next emergency. Now, in view 
of the changes in the technique of war, rifles store fairly 
well, tanks poorly, and battleships and submarines not 



at all. The fact is that the efficacy of a weapon depends 
on precisely what other weapons there are to meet it 
at a given time, and on the whole idea of war at that 
time. This results— as has been proved more than once 
__in the existence of excessive stockpiles of stored 
weapons which are likely to stereotype the military pol- 
icy in a wrong form, so that there is a very appreciable 
advantage to approaching a new emergency with the 
freedom of choosing exactly the right tools to meet it. 

On another level, that of economics, this is conspic- 
uously true, as the British example shows. England was 
the first country to go through a full-scale industrial 
revolution; and from this early age it inherited the nar- 
row gauge of its railways, the heavy investment of its 
cotton mills in obsolete equipment, and the limitations 
of its social system, which have made the cumulative 
needs of the present day into an overwhelming emer- 
gency, only to be met by what amounts to a social and 
industrial revolution. All this is taking place while the 
newest countries to industrialize are able to enjoy the 
latest, most economical equipment; are able to con- 
struct an adequate system of railroads to carry their 
goods on economically-sized cars; and in general, are 
able to live in the present day rather than in that of a 
v century ago. 

What is true of England is true of New England, 
which has discovered that it is often a far more ex- 
pensive matter to modernize an industry than to scrap 
it and to start somewhere else. Quite apart from the 
difficulties of having a relatively strict industrial law 
and an advanced labor policy, one of the chief reasons 
that New England is being deserted by the textile mills 
is that, frankly, they prefer not to be hampered by a 
century of traditions. Thus, even in the most material 
field, production and security are in the long run mat- 
ters of continued invention and development. 

Information is more a matter of process than of stor- 
age. That country will have the greatest security whose 


informational and scientific situation is adequate to 
meet the demands that may be put on it— the country 
in which it is fully realized that information is impor- 
tant as a stage in the continuous process by which we 
observe the outer world, and act effectively upon it. In 
other words, no amount of scientific research, carefully 
recorded in books and papers, and then put into our 
libraries with labels of secrecy, will be adequate to pro- 
tect us for any length of time in a world where the ef- 
fective level of information is perpetually advancing. 
There is no Maginot Line of the brain. 

I repeat, to be alive is to participate in a continuous 
stream of influences from the outer world and acts on 
the outer world, in which we are merely the transi- 
tional stage. In the figurative sense, to be alive to what 
is happening in the world, means to participate in a 
continual development of knowledge and its unham- 
pered exchange. In anything like a normal situation, 
it is both far more difficult and far more important for 
us to ensure that we have such an adequate knowledge 
than to ensure that some possible enemy does not have 
it. The whole arrangement of a military research labo- 
ratory is along lines hostile to our own optimum use 
and development of information. 

During the last war an integral equation of a type 
which I have been to some extent responsible for solv- 
ing arose, not only in my own work, but in at least two 
totally unrelated projects. In one of these I was aware 
that it was bound to arise; and in the other a very 
slight amount of consultation should have made me so 
aware. As these three employments of the same idea 
belonged to three totally different military projects of 
totally different levels of secrecy and in diverse places, 
there was no way by which the information of any one 
of them could penetrate through to the others. The re- 
sult was that it took the equivalent of three independ- 
ent discoveries to make the results accessible in all 
three fields. The delay thus created was a matter of 



from some six months to a year, and probably consider- 
ably more. From the standpoint of money, which of 
course is less important in war, it amounted to a large 
number of man-years at a very expensive level. It 
would take a considerable valuable employment of this 
work by an enemy to be as disadvantageous as the 
need for reproducing all the work on our part. Remem- 
ber that an enemy unable to participate in that resid- 
ual discussion which takes place quite illegally, even 
under our setup of secrecy, would not have been in the 
position to evaluate and use our results. 

The matter of time is essential in all estimates of the 
value of information. A code or cipher, for example, 
which will cover any considerable amount of material 
at high-secrecy level is not only a lock which is hard 
to force, but also one which takes a considerable time 
to open legitimately. Tactical information which is use- 
ful in the combat of small units will almost certainly 
be obsolete in an hour or two. It is a matter of very 
little importance whether it can be broken in three 
hours; but it is of great importance that an officer re- 
ceiving the message should be able to read it in some- 
thing like two minutes. On the other hand, the larger 
plan of battle is too important a matter to entrust to 
this limited degree of security. Nevertheless, if it took 
a whole day for an officer receiving this plan to disen- 
tangle it, the delay might well be more serious than any 
leak. The codes and ciphers for a whole campaign or 
for a diplomatic policy might and should be still less 
easy to penetrate; but there are none which cannot be 
penetrated in any finite period, and which at the same 
time can carry a significant amount of information 
rather than a small set of disconnected individual de- 

The ordinary way of breaking a cipher is to find an 
example of the use of this cipher sufficiently long so 
that the pattern of encodement becomes obvious to the 
skilled investigator. In general, there must be at least a 


minimum degree of repetition of patterns, without 
which the very short passages lacking repetition cannot 
be deciphered. However, when a number of passages 
are enciphered in a type of cipher which is common 
to the whole set, even though the detailed encipher- 
ment varies, there may be enough in common between 
the different passages to lead to a breaking, first of the 
general type of cipher, and then of the particular ci- 
phers used. 

Probably much of the greatest ingenuity which has 
been shown in the breaking of ciphers appears not in 
the annals of the various secret services, but in the 
work of the epigrapher. We all know how the Rosetta 
Stone was decoded through an interpretation of certain 
characters in the Egyptian version, which turned out 
to be the names of the Ptolemies. There is however one 
act of decoding which is greater still. This greatest sin- 
gle example of the art of decoding is the decoding of 
the secrets of nature itself and is the province of the 

Scientific discovery consists in the interpretation for 
our own convenience of a system of existence which 
has been made with no eye to our convenience at all. 
The result is that the last thing in the world suitable 
for the protection of secrecy and elaborate code system 
is a law of nature. Besides the possibility of breaking 
the secrecy by a direct attack on the human or docu- 
mentary vehicles of this secrecy, there is always the 
possibility of attacking the code upstream of all these. 
It is perhaps impossible to devise any secondary code 
as hard to break as the natural code of the atomic nu- 

In the problem of decoding, the most important in- 
formation which we can possess is the knowledge that 
the message which we are reading is not gibberish. A 
common method of disconcerting codebreakers is to 
mix in with the legitimate message a message that can- 
not be decoded; a non-significant message, a mere as- 


semblage of characters. In a similar way, when we 
consider a problem of nature such as that of atomic 
reactions and atomic explosives, the largest single item 
of information which we can make public is that they 
exist. Once a scientist attacks a problem which he 
knows to have an answer, his entire attitude is changed. 
He is already some fifty per cent of his way toward that 

In view of this, it is perfectly fair to say that the one 
secret concerning the atomic bomb which might have 
been kept and which was given to the public and to 
all potential enemies without the least inhibition, was 
that of the possibility on its construction. Take a prob- 
lem of this importance and assure the scientific world 
that it has an answer; then both the intellectual ability 
of the scientists and the existing laboratory facilities 
are so widely distributed that the quasi-independent 
realization of the task will be a matter of merely a few 
years anywhere in the world. 

There is at present a touching belief in this country 
that we are the sole possessors of a certain technique 
called "know-how," which secures for us not only pri- 
ority on all engineering and scientific developments 
and all major inventions, but, as we have said, the 
v moral right to that priority. Certainly, this "know-how" 
has nothing to do with the national origins of those 
who have worked on such problems as that of the 
atomic bomb. It would have been impossible through- 
out most of history to secure the combined services of 
such scientists as the Dane, Bohr; the Italian, Fermi; 
the Hungarian, Szilard; and many others involved in 
the project. What made it possible was the extreme 
consciousness of emergency and the sense of universal 
affront excited by the Nazi threat. Something more than 
inflated propaganda will be necessary to hold such a 
group together over the long period of rearmament to 
which we have often seemed to be committed by the 
policy of the State Department. 



Without any doubt, we possess the world's most 
highly developed technique of combining the efforts 
of large numbers of scientists and large quantities of 
money toward the realization of a single project. This 
should not lead us to any undue complacency concern- 
ing our scientific position, for it is equally clear that we ) 
are bringing up a generation of young men who cannot i 
think of any scientific project except in terms of large 
numbers of men and large quantities of money. The 
skill by which the French and English do great 
amounts of work with apparatus which an American 
high-school teacher would scorn as a casual stick-and- j 
string job, is not to be found among any but a vanish- 
ingly small minority of our young men. The present ; 
vogue of the big laboratory is a new thing in science. 
There are those of us who wish to think that it may 
never last to be an old thing, for when the scientific , 
ideas of this generation are exhausted, or at least reveal 
vastly diminishing returns on their intellectual invest- 
ment, I do not foresee that the next generation will be' 
able to furnish the colossal ideas on which colossal 
projects naturally rest. 

A clear understanding of the notion of information 
as applied to scientific work will show that the simple; 
coexistence of two items of information is of relatively 
small value, unless these two items can be effectively 
combined in some mind or organ which is able to fer- 
tilize one by means of the other. This is the very op- 
posite of the organization in which each member; 
travels a preassigned path, and in which the sentinels; 
of science, when they come to the ends of their beats,; 
present arms, do an about face, and march back in the; 
direction from which they have come. There is a great 
fertilizing and revivifying value in the contact of two' 
scientists with each other; but this can only come when 
at least one of the human beings representing the 
science has penetrated far enough across the frontier? 
to be able to absorb the ideas of his neighbor into an? 




effective plan of thinking. The natural vehicle for this 
type of organization is a plan in which the orbit of each 
scientist is assigned rather by the scope of his interests 
than as a predetermined beat. 

Such loose human organizations do exist even in the 
United States; but at present they represent the result 
of the efforts of a few disinterested men, and not the 
planned frame into which we are being forced by those 
who imagine they know what is good for us. However, 
it will not do for the masses of our scientific population 
to blame their appointed and self-appointed betters for 
their futility, and for the dangers of the present day. 
It is the great public which is demanding the utmost 
of secrecy for modern science in all things which may 
touch its military uses. This demand for secrecy is 
scarcely more than the wish of a sick civilization not 
to learn of the progress of its own disease. So long as 
we can continue to pretend that all is right with the 
world, we plug up our ears against the sound of "An- 
cestral voices prophesying war." 

In this new attitude of the masses at large to re- 
search, there is a revolution in science far beyond what 
the public realizes. Indeed the lords of the present 
scjence themselves do not foresee the full conse- 
quences of what is going on. In the past the direction 
of research had largely been left to the interest of the 
individual scholar and to the trend of the times. At 
present, there is a distinct attempt so to direct research 
in matters of public security that as far as possible, all 
significant avenues will be developed with the objec- 
tive of securing an impenetrable stockade of scientific 
protection. Now, science is impersonal, and the result 
of a further pushing forward of the frontiers of science 
is not merely to show us many weapons which we may 
employ against possible enemies, but also many dan- 
gers of these weapons. These may be due to the fact 
that they either are precisely those weapons which are 
m °re effectively employable against us than against 



any enemy of ours, or are dangers, such as that of radio- 
active poisoning, which are inherent in our very use of 
such a weapon as the atomic bomb. The hurrying up 
of the pace of science, owing to our active simultaneous 
search for all means of attacking our enemies and of 
protecting ourselves, leads to ever-increasing demands 
for new research. For example, the concentrated effort 
of Oak Ridge and Los Alamos in time of war has made 
the question of the protection of the people of the 
United States, not only from the possible enemies em- 
ploying an atomic bomb, but from the atomic radia- 
tion of our new industry, a thing which concerns us 
now. Had the war not occurred, these perils would 
probably not have concerned us for twenty years. In our 
present militaristic frame of mind, this has forced on 
Us the problem of possible countermeasures to a new 
employment of these agencies on the part of an en- 
emy. This enemy may be Russia at the present mo- 
ment, but it is even more the reflection of ourselves 
in a mirage. To defend ourselves against this phantom, 
we must look to new scientific measures, each more 
terrible than the last. There is no end to this vast apoc- 
alyptic spiral. 

We have already depicted litigation as a true game 
in which the antagonists can and are forced to use the 
full resources of bluff and thus each to develop a policy 
which may have to allow for the other player's playing 
the best possible game. What is true in the limited war 
of the court is also true in the war to the death of in- 
ternational relations, whether it takes the bloody form 
of shooting, or the suaver form of diplomacy. 

The whole technique of secrecy, message jamming, 
and bluff, is concerned with insuring that one's own 
side can make use of the forces and agencies of com- 
munication more effectively than the other side. In this 
combative use of information it is quite as important 
to keep one's own message channels open as to obstruct 
the other side in the use of the channels available to it. 



j\ n over-all policy in matters of secrecy almost always 
must involve the consideration of many more things 
than secrecy itself. 

We are in the position of the man who has only two 
ambitions in life. One is to invent the universal solvent 
which will dissolve any solid substance, and the second 
is to invent the universal container which will hold any 
liquid. Whatever this inventor does, he will be frus- 
trated. Furthermore, as I have already said, no secret 
will ever be as safe when its protection is a matter of 
human integrity, as when it was dependent on the dif- 
ficulties of scientific discovery itself. 

I have already said the dissemination of any scien- 
tific secret whatever is merely a matter of time, that in 
this game a decade is a long time, and that in the long 
run, there is no distinction between arming ourselves 
and arming our enemies. Thus each terrifying discov- 
ery merely increases our subjection to the need of mak- 
ing a new discovery. Barring a new awareness on the 
part of our leaders, this is bound to go on and on, until 
the entire intellectual potential of the land is drained 
from any possible constructive application to the mani- 
fold needs of the race, old and new. The effect of these 
weapons must be to increase the entropy of this planet, 
until all distinctions of hot and cold, good and bad, 
man and matter have vanished in the formation of the 
white furnace of a new star. 

Like so many Gadarene swine, we have taken unto 
us the devils of the age, and the compulsion of scientific 
warfare is driving us pell-mell, head over heels into 
the ocean of our own destruction. Or perhaps we may 
say that among the gentlemen who have made it their 
business to be our mentors, and who administer the 
new program of science, many are nothing more than 
apprentice sorcerers, fascinated with the incantation 
which starts a devilment that they are totally unable 
to stop. Even the new psychology of advertising and 
salesmanship becomes in their hands a way for obliter- 


ating the conscientious scruples of the working scien- 
tists, and for destroying such inhibitions as they may 
have against rowing into this maelstrom. 

Let these wise men who have summoned a demoniac 
sanction for their own private purposes remember that 
in the natural course of events, a conscience which has ' 
been bought once will be bought twice. The loyalty to 
humanity which can be subverted by a skillful distribu- 
tion of administrative sugar plums will be followed by 
a loyalty to official superiors lasting just so long as we 
have the bigger sugar plums to distribute. The day may 
well come when it constitutes the biggest potential 
threat to our own security. In that moment in which 
some other power, be it fascist or communist, is in the 
position to offer the greater rewards, our good friends 
who have rushed to our defense per account rendered 
will rush as quickly to our subjection and annihilation. 
May those who have summoned from the deep the 
spirits of atomic warfare remember that for their own 
sake, if not for ours, they must not wait beyond the first 
glimmerings of success on the part of our opponents 
to put to death those whom they have already cor- 



This book argues that the integrity of the channels of 
internal communication is essential to the welfare of 
society. This internal communication is subject at the 
present time not only to the threats which it has faced 
at all times, but to certain new and especially serious 
problems which belong peculiarly to our age. One 
among these is the growing complexity and cost of 

A hundred and fifty years ago or even fifty years 
ago— it does not matter which— the world and America 
in particular were full of small journals and presses 
through which almost any man could obtain a hearing. 
The country editor was not as he is now limited to 
boiler plate and local gossip, but could and often did 
express his individual opinion, not only of local affairs 
but of world matters. At present this license to express 
oneself has become so expensive with the increasing 
cost of presses, paper, and syndicated services, that the 
newspaper business has come to be the art of saying 
less and less to more and more. 

The movies may be quite inexpensive as far as con- 
cerns the cost of showing each show to each spectator, 
but they are so horribly expensive in the mass that few 
shows are worth the risk, unless their success is certain 
in advance. It is not the question whether a show may 
excite a great interest in a considerable number of peo- 
ple that interests the entrepreneur, but rather the ques- 
tion of whether it will be unacceptable to so few that 


he can count on selling it indiscriminately to movie 
theaters from coast to coast. 

What I have said about the newspapers and the 
movies applies equally to the radio, to television, and 
even to bookselling. Thus we are in an age where the 
enormous per capita bulk of communication is met by 
an ever-thinning stream of total bulk of communica- 
tion. More and more we must accept a standardized 
inoffensive and insignificant product which, like the 
white bread of the bakeries, is made rather for its keep- 
ing and selling properties than for its food value. 

This is fundamentally an external handicap of mod- 
ern communication, but it is paralleled by another 
which gnaws from within. This is the cancer of creative 
narrowness and feebleness. 

In the old days, the young man who wished to enter 
the creative arts might either have plunged in directly 
or prepared himself by a general schooling, perhaps 
irrelevant to the specific tasks he finally undertook, but 
which was at least a searching discipline of his abilities 
and taste. Now the channels of apprenticeship are 
largely silted up. Our elementary and secondary 
schools are more interested in formal classroom dis- 
cipline than in the intellectual discipline of learning 
something thoroughly, and a great deal of the serious 
preparation for a scientific or a literary course is rel- 
egated to some sort of graduate school or other. 

Hollywood meanwhile has found that the very 
standardization of its product has interfered with the 
natural flow of acting talent from the legitimate stage. 
The repertory theaters had almost ceased to exist when 
some of them were reopened as Hollywood talent 
farms, and even these are dying on the vine. To a con- 
siderable extent our young would-be actors have 
learned their trade, not on the stage, but in university 
courses on acting. Our writers cannot get very far as 
young men in competition with syndicate material, 
and if they do not make a success the first try, they 



have no place to go but college courses which are sup- 
posed to teach them how to write. Thus the higher de- 
grees, and above all the Ph.D., which have had a long 
existence as the legitimate preparation of the scientific 
specialist, are more and more serving as a model for 
intellectual training in all fields. 

Properly speaking the artist, the writer, and the sci- 
entist should be moved by such an irresistible impulse 
to create that, even if they were not being paid for 
their work, they would be willing to pay to get the 
chance to do it. However, we are in a period in which 
forms have largely superseded educational content 
and one which is moving toward an ever-increasing 
thinness of educational content. It is now considered 
perhaps more a matter of social prestige to obtain a 
higher degree and follow what may be regarded as a 
cultural career, than a matter of any deep impulse. 

In view of this great bulk of semi-mature apprentices 
who are being put on the market, the problem of 
giving them some colorable material to work on has 
assumed an overwhelming importance. Theoretically 
they should find their own material, but the big busi- 
ness of modern advanced education cannot be oper- 
ated under this relatively low pressure. Thus the 
earlier stages of creative work, whether in the arts or 
in the sciences, which should properly be governed by 
a great desire on the part of the students to create 
something and to communicate it to the world at large, 
are now subject instead to the formal requirements of 
finding Ph.D. theses or similar apprentice media. 

Some of my friends have even asserted that a Ph.D. 
thesis should be the greatest scientific work a man has 
ever done and perhaps ever will do, and should wait 
until he is thoroughly able to state his life work. I do not 
go along with this. I mean merely that if the thesis is 
not in fact such an overwhelming task, it should at 
least be in intention the gateway to vigorous creative 
work. Lord only knows that there are enough problems 


yet to be solved, books to be written, and music to 
be composed! Yet for all but a very few, the path to 
these lies through the performance of perfunctory tasks 
which in nine cases out of ten have no compelling 
reason to be performed. Heaven save us from the first 
novels which are written because a young man desires 
the prestige of being a novelist rather than because he 
has something to say! Heaven save us likewise from 
the mathematical papers which are correct and elegant 
but without body or spirit. Heaven save us above all 
from the snobbery which not only admits the possi- 
bility of this thin and perfunctory work, but which cries ( 
out in a spirit of shrinking arrogance against the 
competition of vigor and ideas, wherever these may be 

In other words, when there is communication with- 
out need for communication, merely so that someone 
may earn the social and intellectual prestige of be- 
coming a priest of communication, the quality and 
communicative value of the message drop like a plum- 
met. It is as if a machine should be made from the 
Rube Goldberg point of view, to show just what rec- 
ondite ends may be served by an apparatus appar- 
ently quite unsuitable for them, rather than to do some- > 
thing. In the arts, the desire to find new things to say 
and new ways of saying them is the source of all life 
and interest. Yet every day we meet with examples 
of painting where, for instance, the artist has bound 
himself from the new canons of the abstract, and has 
displayed no intention to use these canons to display an 
interesting and novel form of beauty, to pursue the 
uphill fight against the prevailing tendency toward 
the commonplace and the banal. Not all the ar- 
tistic pedants are academicians. There are pedantic 
avantgardistes. No school has a monoply on beauty. 
Beauty, like order, occurs in many places in this world, 
but only as a local and temporary fight against the 
Niagara of increasing entropy. 



I speak here with feeling which is more intense as 
far as concerns the scientific artist than the conven- 
tional artist, because it is in science that I have first 
chosen to say something. What sometimes enrages me 
a nd always disappoints and grieves me is the prefer- 
ence of great schools of learning for the derivative as 
opposed to the original, for the conventional and thin 
which can be duplicated in many copies rather than 
the new and powerful, and for arid correctness and 
limitation of scope and method rather than for universal 
newness and beauty, wherever it may be seen. More- 
over, I protest, not only as I have already done against 
the cutting off of intellectual originality by the diffi- 
culties of the means of communication in the modern 
world, but even more against the ax which has been 
put to the root of originality because the people who 
have elected communication as a career so often have 
nothing more to communicate. 



The preceding chapters of this book dealt primarily 
with the study of man as a communicative organism. 
However, as we have already seen, the machine may 
also be a communicative organism. In this chapter, I 
shall discuss that field in which the communicative 
characters of man and of the machine impinge upon 
one another, and I shall try to ascertain what the direc- 
tion of the development of the machine will be, and 
what we may expect of its impact on human society. 

Once before in history the machine had impinged 
upon human culture with an effect of the greatest mo- 
ment. This previous impact is known as the Industrial 
Revolution, and it concerned the machine purely as an 
alternative to human muscle. In order to study the 
present crisis, which we shall term The Second Indus- 
trial Revolution, it is perhaps wise to discuss the history 
of the earlier crisis as something of a model. 

The first industrial revolution had its roots in the 
intellectual ferment of the eighteenth century, which 
found the scientific techniques of Newton and Huy- 
gens already well developed, but with applications 
which had yet scarcely transcended astronomy. It had, 
however, become manifest to all intelligent scientists 
that the new techniques were gong to have a profound 
effect on the other sciences. The first fields to show the 
impact of the Newtonian era were those of navigation 
and of clockmaking. 

Navigation is an art which dates to ancient times, but 



jt had one conspicuous weakness until the seventeen- 
thirties. The problem of determining latitude had al- 
ways been easy, even in the days of the Greeks. It was 
simply a matter of determining the angular height of 
the celestial pole. This may be done roughly by taking 
the pole star as the actual pole of the heavens, or it may 
be done very precisely by further refinements which 
locate the center of the apparent circular path of the 
pole star. On the other hand, the problem of longitudes 
is always more difficult. Short of a geodetic survey, it 
can be solved only by a comparison of local time with 
some standard time such as that of Greenwich. In order 
to do this, we must either carry the Greenwich time 
with us on a chronometer or we must find some heav- 
enly clock other than the sun to take the place of a 

Before either of these two methods had become 
available for the practical navigator, he was very con- 
siderably hampered in his techniques of navigation. He 
was accustomed to sail along the coast until he reached 
the latitude he wanted. Then he would strike out on an 
east or west course, along a parallel of latitude, until he 
made a landfall. Except by an approximate dead- 
reckoning, he could not tell how far he was along the 
course, yet it was a matter of great importance to him 
that he should not come unawares onto a dangerous 
coast. Having made his landfall, he sailed along the 
coast until he came to his destination. It will be seen 
that under these circumstances every voyage was very 
much of an adventure. Nevertheless, this was the pat- 
tern of voyages for many centuries. It can be rec- 
ognized in the course taken by Columbus, in that of 
the Silver Fleet, and that of the Acapulco galleons. 

This slow and risky procedure was not satisfactory 
*° the admiralties of the eighteenth century. In the 
fi rs t place, the overseas interests of England and 
France, unlike those of Spain, lay in high latitudes, 
where the advantage of a direct great-circle course 


over an east-and-west course is most conspicuous. In 
the second place, there was a great competition be- 
tween the two northern powers for the supremacy of 
the seas, and the advantage of a better navigation was 
a serious one. It is not a surprise that both govern- 
ments offered large rewards for an accurate technique 
of finding longitudes. 

The history of these prize contests is complicated 
and not too edifying. More than one able man was 
deprived of his rightful triumph, and went bankrupt. 
In the end, these prizes were awarded in both coun- 
tries for two very different achievements. One was the 
design of an accurate ship's chronometer— that is, of a > 
clock sufficiently well constructed and compensated to 
be able to keep the time within a few seconds over a 
voyage in which it was subject to the continual violent 
motion of the ship. The other was the construction of 
good mathematical tables of the motion of the moon, 
which enabled the navigator to use that body as the 
clock with which to check the apparent motion of the 1 
sun. These two methods have dominated all naviga- 
tion until the recent development of radio and radar 

Accordingly, the advance guard of the craftsmen of 
the industrial revolution consisted on the one hand of 
clockmakers, who used the new mathematics of New- 
ton in the design of their pendulums and their balance 
wheels; and on the other hand, of optical-instrument 
makers, with their sextants and their telescopes. The 
two trades had very much in common. They both de- 
manded the construction of accurate circles and ac- 
curate straight lines, and the graduation of these in 
degrees or in inches. Their tools were the lathe and 
the dividing engine. These machine tools for delicate 
work are the ancestors of our present machine-tool in- 

It is an interesting reflection that every tool has a 
genealogy, and that it is descended from the tools by 



which it has itself been constructed. The clockmakers' 
lathes of the eighteenth century have led through a 
clear historical chain of intermediate tools to the great 
turret lathes of the present day. The series of inter- 
vening steps might conceivably have been foreshort- 
ened somewhat, but it has necessarily had a certain 
minimum length. It is clearly impossible in construct- 
ing a great turret lathe to depend on the unaided hu- 
man hand for the pouring of the metal, for the placing 
of the castings on the instruments to machine them, 
and above all for the power needed in the task of 
machining them. These must be done through ma- 
chines that have themselves been manufactured by 
other machines, and it is only through many stages of 
this that one reaches back to the original hand- or foot- 
lathes of the eighteenth century. 

It is thus entirely natural that those who were to 
develop new inventions were either clockmakers or 
scientific-instrument makers themselves, or called on 
people of these crafts to help them. For instance, Watt 
was a scientific-instrument maker. To show how even 
a man like Watt had to bide his time before he could 
extend the precision of clockmaking techniques to 
larger undertakings, we must remember, as I have said 
earlier, that his standard of the fit of a piston in a 
cylinder was that it should be barely possible to insert 
and move a thin sixpence between them. 

We must thus consider navigation and the instru- 
ments necessary for it as the locus of an industrial revo- 
lution before the main industrial revolution. The main 
industrial revolution begins with the steam engine. The 
first form of the steam engine was the crude and waste- 
ful Newcomen engine, which was used for pumping 
mines. In the middle of the eighteenth century there 
were abortive attempts to use it for generating power, 
by making it pump water into elevated reservoirs, and 
employing the fall of this water to turn water wheels. 
Such clumsy devices became obsolete with the intro- 


duction of the perfected engines of Watt, which were 
employed quite early in their history for factory pur- 
poses as well as for mine pumping. The end of the 
eighteenth century saw the steam engine thoroughly 
established in industry, and the promise of the steam- 
boat on the rivers and of steam traction on land 
not far away. 

The first place where steam power came into practi- 
cal use was in replacing one of the most brutal forms 
of human or animal labor: pumping of water out of. 
mines. At best, this had been done by draft animals, 
by crude machines turned by horses. At worst, as in 
the silver mines of New Spain, it was done by the labor , 
of human slaves. It is a work that is never finished and 
which can never be interrupted without the possibility 
of closing down the mine forever. The use of the steam 
engine to replace this servitude must certainly be re- 
garded as a great humanitarian step forward. 

However, slaves do not only pump mines: they also 
drag loaded riverboats upstream. A second great tri- 
umph of the steam engine was the invention of the 
steamboat, and in particular of the river steamboat. The 
steam engine at sea was for many years but a supple- 
ment of questionable value to the sails carried by every 
seagoing steamboat; but it was steam transportation 
on the Mississippi which opened up the interior of the 
United States. Like the steamboat, the steam locomo- 
tive started where it is now dying, as a means of hauling 
heavy freight. 

The next place where the industrial revolution made 
itself felt, perhaps a little later than in the field of the 
heavy labor of mine workers, and simultaneously with 
the revolution in transportation, was in the textile in- 
dustry. This was already a sick industry. Even before 
the power spindle and the power looms, the condition 
of the spinners and the weavers left much to be de- 
sired. The bulk of production which they could per- 
form fell far short of the demands of the day. It might 


thus appear to have been scarcely possible to conceive 
that the transition to the machine could have worsened 
their condition; but worsen it, it most certainly did. 

The beginnings of textile-machine development go 
back of the steam engine. The stocking frame has 
existed in a form worked by hand ever since the time of 
Queen Elizabeth. Machine spinning first became nec- 
essary in order to furnish warps for hand looms. The 
complete mechanization of the textile industry, cover- 
ing weaving as well as spinning, did not occur until 
the beginning of the nineteenth century. The first 
textile machines were for hand operation, although the 
use of horsepower and water power followed very 
quickly. Part of the impetus behind the development 
of the Watt engine, as contrasted with the Newcomen 
engine, was the desire to furnish power in the rotary 
form needed for textile purposes. 

The textile mills furnished the model for almost the 
whole course of the mechanization of industry. On the 
social side, they began the transfer of the workers from 
the home to the factory and from the country to the 
city. There was an exploitation of the labor of children 
and women to an extent, and of a brutality scarcely 
conceivable at the present time— that is, if we forget 
the South African diamond mines and ignore the new 
industrialization of China and India and the general 
terms of plantation labor in almost every country. A 
great deal of this was due to the fact that new tech- 
niques had produced new responsibilities, at a time at 
which no code had yet arisen to take care of these 
responsibilities. There was, however, a phase which 
was of greater technical than moral significance. By 
this, I mean that a great many of the disastrous conse- 
quences and phases of the earlier part of the industrial 
revolution were not so much due to any moral obtuse- 
ness or iniquity on the part of those concerned, as to 
certain technical features which were inherent in the 
early means of industrialization, and which the later 


history of technical development has thrust more or ' 
less into the background. These technical determinants 
of the direction which the early industrial revolution 
took, lay in the very nature of early steam power and 
its transmission. The steam engine used fuel very un- 
economically by modern standards, although this is not 
as important as it might seem, considering the fact that 
early engines had none of the more modern type with 
which to compete. However, among themselves they 
were much more economical to run on a large scale 
than on a small one. In contrast with the prime mover, 
the textile machine, whether it be loom or spindle, is 
a comparatively light machine, and uses little power. , 
It was therefore economically necessary to assemble 
these machines in large factories, where many looms > 
and spindles could be run from one steam engine. 

At that time the only available means of transmission 
of power were mechanical. The first among these was 
the line of shafting, supplemented by the belt and the 
pulley. Even as late as the time of my own childhood, 
the typical picture of a factory was that of a great shed 
with long lines of shafts suspended from the rafters, 
and pulleys connected by belts to the individual ma- 
chines. This sort of factory still exists; although in very 
many cases it has given way to the modern arrange- 
ment where the machines are driven individually by , 
electric motors. 

Indeed this second picture is the typical one at the 
present time. The trade of the millwright has taken on 
a totally new form. Here there is an important fact 
relevant to the whole history of invention. It was ex- 
actly these millwrights and other new craftsmen of the 
machine age who were to develop the inventions that ' 
are at the foundation of our patent system. Now, the 
mechanical connection of machines involves difficulties 
that are quite serious, and not easy to cover by any 
simple mathematical formulation. In the first place, , 
long lines of shafting either have to be well aligned, or 



to employ ingenious modes of connection, such as uni- 
versal joints or parallel couplings, which allow for a 
certain amount of freedom. In the second place, the 
long lines of bearings needed for such shafts are very 
high in their power consumption. In the individual ma- 
chine, the rotating and reciprocating parts are subject 
to similar demands of rigidity, and to similar demands 
that the number of bearings must be reduced as much 
as possible for the sake of low power consumption and 
simple manufacture. These prescriptions are not easily 
filled on the basis of general formulas, and they offer 
an excellent opportunity for ingenuity and inventive 
skill of the old-fashioned artisan sort. 

It is in view of this fact that the change-over in en- 
gineering between mechanical connections and elec- 
trical connections has had so great an effect. The 
electrical motor is a mode of distributing power which 
is very convenient to construct in small sizes, so that 
each machine may have its own motor. The transmis- 
sion losses in the wiring of a factory are relatively low, 
and the efficiency of the motor itself is relatively high. 
The connection of the motor with its wiring is not nec- 
essarily rigid, nor does it consist of many parts. There 
are still motives of traffic and convenience which may 
induce us to continue the custom of mounting the dif- 
ferent machines of an industrial process in a single 
factory; but the need of connecting all the machines 
to a single source of power is no longer a serious reason 
for geographical proximity. In other words, we are now 
in a position to return to cottage industry, in places 
where it would otherwise be suitable. 

I do not wish to insist that the difficulties of mechan- 
ical transmission were the only cause of the shed 
factories and of the demoralization they produced. In- 
deed, the factory system started before the machine 
system, as a means of introducing discipline into the 
highly undisciplined home industry of the individual 
workers, and of keeping up standards of production. 


It is true, however, that these non-mechanical factories 
were very soon superseded by mechanical ones, and 
that probably the worst social effects of urban crowd- 
ing and of rural depopulation took place in the 
machine factory. Furthermore, if the fractional horse- 
power motor had been available from the start and 
could have increased the unit of production of a cottage 
worker, it is highly probable that a large part of the or- 
ganization and discipline needed for successful large- 
scale production could have been superimposed 
such home industries as spinning and weaving. 

If it should be so desired, a single piece of machinery 
may now contain several motors, each introducing 
power at the proper place. This relieves the designer 
of much of the need for the ingenuity in mechanical 
design which he would otherwise have been compelled 
to use. In an electrical design, the mere problem of 
the connection of the parts seldom involves much dif- 
ficulty that does not lend itself to easy mathematical 
formulation and solution. The inventor of linkages has 
been superseded by the computor of circuits. This is an 
example of the way in which the art of invention is 
conditioned by the existing means. 

In the third quarter of the last century, when the 
electric motor was first used in industry, it was at first 
supposed to be nothing more than an alternative de- 
vice for carrying out existing industrial techniques. It 
was probably not foreseen that its final effect would 
be to give rise to a new concept of the factory. 

That other great electrical invention, the vacuum 
tube, has had a similar history. Before the invention 
of the vacuum tube, it took many separate mechanisms 
to regulate systems of great power. Indeed, most of 
the regulatory means themselves employed consider- 
able power. There were exceptions to this, but only in 
specific fields, such as the steering of ships. 

As late as 1915, 1 crossed the ocean on one of the old 
ships of the American Line. It belonged to the transi- 



tional period when ships still carried sails, as well as a 
pointed bow to carry a bowsprit. In a well-deck not far 
aft of the main superstructure, there was a formidable 
engine, consisting of four or five six-foot wheels with 
hand-spokes. These wheels were supposed to control 
the ship in the event that its automatic steering engine 
broke down. In a storm, it would have taken ten men 
or more, exerting their full strength, to keep that great 
ship on its course. 

This was not the usual method of control of the ship, 
but an emergency replacement, or as sailors call it, a 
"jury steering wheel." For normal control, the ship car- 
ried a steering engine which translated the relatively 
small forces of the quartermaster at the wheel into the 
movement of the massive rudder. Thus even on a 
purely mechanical basis, some progress had been made 
toward the solution of the problem of amplification of 
forces or torques. Nevertheless, at that time, this solu- 
tion of the amplification problem did not range over 
extreme differences between the levels of input and of 
output, nor was it embodied in a convenient universal 
type of apparatus. 

The most flexible universal apparatus for amplifying 
small energy-levels into high energy-levels is the vac- 
uum tube, or electron valve. The history of this is in- 
teresting, though it is too complex for us to discuss here. 
It is however amusing to reflect that the invention of 
the electron valve originated in Edison's greatest scien- 
tific discovery and perhaps the only one which he did 
not capitalize into an invention. 

He observed that when an electrode was placed in- 
side an electric lamp, and was taken as electrically pos- 
itive with respect to the filament, then a current would 
flow, if the filament were heated, but not otherwise. 
Through a series of inventions by other people, this led 
to a more effective way than any known before of con- 
trolling a large current by a small voltage. This is the 
basis of the modern radio industry, but it is also an 


industrial tool which is spreading widely into new 
fields. It is thus no longer necessary to control a process 
at high energy -levels by a mechanism in which the im- 
portant details of control are carried out at these levels. 
It is quite possible to form a certain pattern of behavior 
response at levels much lower even than those found 
in usual radio sets, and then to employ a series of am- 
plifying tubes to control by this apparatus a machine 
as heavy as a steel-rolling mill. The work of discrimi- 
nating and of forming the pattern of behavior for this is 
done under conditions in which the power losses are 
insignificant, and yet the final employment of this dis- 
criminatory process is at arbitrarily high levels of 

It will be seen that this is an invention which alters 
the fundamental conditions of industry, quite as vitally 
as the transmission and subdivision of power through 
the use of the small electric motor. The study of the , 
pattern of behavior is transferred to a special part of 
the instrument in which power-economy is of very little 
importance. We have thus deprived of much of their 
importance the dodges and devices previously used to 
insure that a mechanical linkage should consist of the 
fewest possible elements, as well as the devices used to 
minimize friction and lost motion. The design of ma- 
chines involving such parts has been transferred from 
the domain of the skilled shopworker to that of the re- 
search-laboratory man; and in this he has all the avail- 
able tools of circuit theory to replace a mechanical 
ingenuity of the old sort. Invention in the old sense has 
been supplanted by the intelligent employment of cer- 
tain laws of nature. The step from the laws of nature 
to their employment has been reduced by a hundred 

I have previously said that when an invention is 
made, a considerable period generally elapses 
its full implications are understood. It was long before 
people became aware of the full impact of the airplane 



on international relations and on the conditions of hu- 
man life. The effect of atomic energy on mankind and 
the future is yet to be assessed, although many observ- 
ers insist that it is merely a new weapon like all older 

The case of the vacuum tube was similar. In the be- 
ginning, it was regarded merely as an extra tool to 
supplement the already existing techniques of tele- 
phonic communication. The electrical engineers first 
mistook its real importance to such an extent that for 
years vacuum tubes were relegated simply to a particu- 
lar part of the communication network. This part was 
connected with other parts consisting only of the tradi- 
tional so-called inactive circuit elements— the resist- 
ances, the capacitances, and the inductances. Only 
since the war have engineers felt free enough in their 
employment of vacuum tubes to insert them where 
necessary, in the same way they had previously in- 
serted passive elements of these three kinds. 

The vacuum tube was first used to replace previously 
existing components of long-distance telephone circuits 
and wireless telegraphy. It was not long, however, be- 
fore it became clear that the radio-telephone had 
achieved the stature of the radio-telegraph, and that 
broadcasting was possible. Let not the fact that this 
great triumph of invention has largely been given over 
to the soap-opera and the hillbilly singer, blind one to 
the excellent work that was done in developing it, and 
to the great civilizing possibilities which have been per- 
verted into a national medicine-show. 

Though the vacuum tube received its debut in the 
communications industry, the boundaries and extent of 
this industry were not fully understood for a long pe- 
riod. There were sporadic uses of the vacuum tube and 
of its sister invention, the photoelectric cell, for scan- 
ning the products of industry; as for example, for 
regulating the thickness of a web coming out of a paper 
machine, or for inspecting the color of a can of pine- 


apples. These uses did not as yet form a reasoned new 
technique, nor were they associated in the engineering 
mind with the vacuum tubes other function, commu- 

All this changed in the war. One of the few things 
gained from the great conflict was the rapid develop- 
ment of invention, under the stimulus of necessity and 
the unlimited employment of money; and above all, the 
new blood called in to industrial research. At the be- 
ginning of the war, our greatest need was to keep Eng- 
land from being knocked out by an overwhelming air 
attack. Accordingly, the anti-aircraft cannon was one 
of the first objects of our scientific war effort, especially 
when combined with the airplane-detecting device of 
radar or ultra-high-frequency Hertzian waves. The 
technique of radar used the same modalities as the ex- 
isting technique of radio besides inventing new ones 
of its own. It was thus natural to consider radar as a 
branch of communication theory. 

Besides finding airplanes by radar it was necessary 
to shoot them down. This involves the problem of fire 
control. The speed of the airplane has made it nec- 
essary to compute the elements of the trajectory of the 
anti-aircraft missile by machine, and to give the pre- 
dicting machine itself communication functions which 
had previously been assigned to human beings. Thus 
the problem of anti-aircraft fire control made a new 
generation of engineers familiar with the notion of a 
communication addressed to a machine rather than to 
a person. In our chapter in language, we have already 
mentioned another field in which for a considerable 
time this notion had been familiar to a limited group of 
engineers: the field of the automatic hydroelectric 
power station. 

During the period immediately preceding World 
War II other uses were found for the vacuum tube 
coupled directly to the machine rather than to the hu- 
man agent. Among these were more general applica- 



tions to computing machines. The concept of the large- 
scale computing machine as developed by Vannevar 
Bush among others was originally a purely mechanical 
one. The integration was done by rolling disks engag- 
ing one another in a frictional manner; and the inter- 
change of outputs and inputs between these disks was 
the task of a classical train of shafts and gears. 

The mother idea of these first computing machines 
is much older than the work of Vannevar Bush. In cer- 
tain respects it goes back to the work of Babbage early 
in the last century. Babbage had a surprisingly mod- 
ern idea for a computing machine, but his mechanical 
means fell far behind his ambitions. The first difficulty 
he met, and with which he could not cope, was that a 
long train of gears requires considerable power to run 
it, so that its output of power and torque very soon 
becomes too small to actuate the remaining parts of the 
apparatus. Bush saw this difficulty and overcame it in a 
very ingenious way. Besides the electrical amplifiers 
depending on vacuum tubes and on similar devices, 
there are certain mechanical torque-amplifiers which 
are familiar, for example, to everyone acquainted with 
ships and the unloading of cargo. The stevedore raises 
the cargo-slings by taking a purchase on his load 
around the drum of a donkey-engine or cargo-hoist. In 
this way, the tension which he exerts mechanically is 
increased by a factor which grows extremely rapidly 
with the angle of contact between his rope and the 
rotating drum. Thus one man is able to control the lift- 
ing of a load of many tons. 

This device is fundamentally a force- or torque-am- 
plifier. By an ingenious bit of design, Bush inserted 
such mechanical amplifiers between the stages of his 
computing machine, and thus was able to do effectively 
the sort of thing which had only been a dream for Bab- 

In the early days of Vannevar Bush's work, before 
there were any high speed automatic controls in fac- 


tories, I had become interested in the problem of ^ 
partial differential equation. Bush's work had con* 
cerned the ordinary differential equation in which th^ 
independent variable was the time, and duplicated ftjj 
its time course the course of the phenomena it was an* 
alyzing, although possibly at a different rate. In th$ 
partial differential equation, the quantities which tak$ 
the place of the time are spread out in space, and I 
suggested to Bush that in view of the technique of tele^ 
vision scanning which was then developing at high| 
speed, we would, ourselves, have to consider such a} 
technique to represent the many variables of, let us sayj 
space, against the one variable of time. A computing 
machine so designed would have to work at extremely; 
high speed, which to my mind put mechanical proc- 
esses out of the question and threw us back on elec- 
tronic processes. In such a machine, moreover, all data 
would have to be written, read, and erased with a 
speed compatible with that of the other operations of 
the machine; and in addition to including an arithmet-? 
ical mechanism, it would need a logical mechanism as: 
well and would have to be able to handle problems of ) 
programming on a purely logical and automatic basis.; 
The notion of programming in the factory had already' 
become familiar through the work of Taylor and the 
Gilbreths on time study, and was ready to be trans- 
ferred to the machine. This offered considerable diffi- 
culty of detail, but no great difficulty of principle. I 
was thus convinced as far back as 1940 that the au- 
tomatic factory was on the horizon, and I so informed; 
Vannevar Bush. The consequent development of au-; 
tomatization, both before and after the publication of 
the first edition of this book, has convinced me that I 
was right in my judgment and that this development 
would be one of the great factors in conditioning the 
social and technical life of the age to come, the keynote 
of the second industrial revolution. 

In one of its earlier phases the Bush Differential An- 


alyzer performed all the principal amplification func- 
tions. It used electricity only to give power to the 
motors running the machine as a whole. This state of 
computing-mechanisms was intermediate and transi- 
tory. It very soon became clear that amplifiers of an 
electric nature, connected by wires rather than by 
shafts, were both less expensive and more flexible than 
mechanical amplifiers and connections. Accordingly, 
the later forms of Bush's machine made use of vacuum- 
tube devices. This has been continued in all their suc- 
cessors; whether they were what are now called 
analogy machines, which work primarily by the meas- 
urement of physical quantities, or digital machines, 
which work primarily by counting and arithmetic oper- 

The development of these computing machines has 
been very rapid since the war. For a large range of 
computational work, they have shown themselves 
much faster and more accurate than the human com- 
puter. Their speed has long since reached such a level 
that any intermediate human intervention in their work 
is out of the question. Thus they offer the same need to 
replace human capacities by machine capacities as 
those which we found in the anti-aircraft computer. 
The parts of the machine must speak to one another 
through an appropriate language, without speaking to 
any person or listening to any person, except in the 
terminal and initial stages of the process. Here again we 
have an element which has contributed to the general 
acceptance of the extension to machines of the idea 
of communication. 

In this conversation between the parts of a machine, 
it is often necessary to take cognizance of what the 
machine has already said. Here there enters the prin- 
ciple of feedback, which we have already discussed, 
and which is older than its exemplification in the ship's 
steering engine, and is at least as old, in fact, as the 
governor which regulates the speed of Watt's steam 


engine. This governor keeps the engine from running 
wild when its load is removed. If it starts to run wild, 
the balls of the governor fly upward from centrifugal 
action, and in their upward flight they move a lever 
which partly cuts off the admission of steam. Thus the 
tendency to speed up produces a partly compensatory 
tendency to slow down. This method of regulation) re- 
ceived a thorough mathematical analysis at the hands 
of Clerk Maxwell in 1868. 

Here feedback is used to regulate the velocity of a 
machine. In the ship's steering engine it regulates the 
position of the rudder. The man at the wheel operates 
a light transmission system, employing chains or hy- 
draulic transmission, which moves a member in the 
room containing the steering engine. There is some sort 
of apparatus which notes the distance between this 
member and the tiller; and this distance controls the 
admission of steam to the ports of a steam steering-en- 
gine, or some similar electrical admission in the case of 
an electrical steering-engine. Whatever the particular 
connections may be, this change of admission is always 
in such a direction as to bring into coincidence the tiller 
and the member actuated from the wheel. Thus one 
man at the wheel can do with ease what a whole crew 
could do only with difficulty at the old manpower 

We have so far given examples of where the feed- 
back process takes primarily a mechanical form. How- 
ever, a series of operations of the same structure can 
be carried out through electrical and even vacuum- 
tube means. These means promise to be the future 
standard method of designing control apparatus. 

There has long been a tendency to render factories 
and machines automatic. Except for some special pur- 
pose, one would no longer think of producing screws 
by the use of the ordinary lathe, in which a mechanic 
must watch the progress of his cutter and regulate it 
by hand. The production of screws in quantity without 



serious human intervention is now the normal task of 
the ordinary screw machine. Although this does not 
make any special use of the process of feedback nor of 
the vacuum tube, it accomplishes a somewhat similar 
end. What the feedback and the vacuum tube have 
made possible is not the sporadic design of individual 
automatic mechanisms, but a general policy for the 
construction of automatic mechanisms of the most var- 
ied type. In this they have been reinforced by our new 
theoretical treatment of communication, which takes 
full cognizance of the possibilities of communication 
between machine and machine. It is this conjunction 
of circumstances which now renders possible the new 
automatic age. 

The existing state of industrial techniques includes 
the whole of the results of the first industrial revolu- 
tion, together with many inventions which we now see 
to be precursors of the second industrial revolution. 
What the precise boundary between these two revolu- 
tions may be, it is still too early to say. In its potential 
significance, the vacuum tube certainly belongs to an 
industrial revolution different from that of the age of 
power; and yet it is only at present that the true sig- 
nificance of the invention of the vacuum tube has been 
sufficiently realized to allow us to attribute the present 
age to a new and second industrial revolution. 

Up to now we have been talking about the existing 
state of affairs. We have not covered more than a small 
part of the aspects of the previous industrial revolution. 
We have not mentioned the airplane, nor the bull- 
dozer, together with the other mechanical tools of con- 
struction, nor the automobile, nor even one-tenth of 
those factors which have converted modern life to 
something totally unlike the life of any other period. 
It is fair to say, however, that except for a considerable 
number of isolated examples, the industrial revolution 
up to the present has displaced man and the beast as a 
source of power, without making any great impression 


on other human functions. The best that a pick-and- 
shovel worker can do to make a living at the present 
time is to act as a sort of gleaner after the bulldozer. 
In all important respects, the man who has nothing but 
his physical power to sell has nothing to sell which it is 
worth anyone's money to buy. 

Let us now go on to a picture of a more comp^tely 
automatic age. Let us consider what for example the 
automobile factory of the future will be like; and in 
particular the assembly line, which is the part of the 
automobile factory that employs the most labor. In the 
first place, the sequence of operations will be con- 
trolled by something like a modern high-speed com- 
puting machine. In this book and elsewhere, I have 
often said that the high-speed computing machine is 
primarily a logical machine, which confronts different 
propositions with one another and draws some of their 
consequences. It is possible to translate the whole of 
mathematics into the performance of a sequence of 
purely logical tasks. If this representation of mathemat- 
ics is embodied in the machine, the machine will be a 
computing machine in the ordinary sense. However, 
such a computing machine, besides accomplishing or- 
dinary mathematical tasks, will be able to undertake 
the logical task of channeling a series of orders con- 
cerning mathematical operations. Therefore, as pres- 
ent high-speed computing machines in fact do, it will 
contain at least one large assembly which is purely log- 

The instructions to such a machine, and here too I 
am speaking of present practice, are given by what we 
have called a taping. The orders given the machine 
may be fed into it by a taping which is completely pre- 
determined. It is also possible that the actual contin- 
gencies met in the performance of the machine may 
be handed over as a basis of further regulation to a 
new control tape constructed by the machine itself, or 
to a modification of the old one. I have already ex- 



plained how I think such processes are related to learn- 
It may be thought that the present great expense of 
computing machines bars them from use in industrial 
processes; and furthermore that the delicacy of the 
work needed in their construction and the variability 
of their functions precludes the use of the methods of 
mass production in constructing them. Neither of these 
charges is correct. In the first place, the enormous com- 
puting machines now used for the highest level of 
mathematical work cost something of the order of hun- 
dreds of thousands of dollars. Even this price would not 
be forbidding for the control machine of a really large 
factory, but it is not the relevant price. The present 
computing machines are developing so rapidly that 
practically every one constructed is a new model. In 
other words, a large part of these apparently exorbitant 
prices goes into new work of design, and into new parts, 
which are produced by a very high quality of labor 
under the most expensive circumstances. If one of these 
computing machines were therefore established 
in price and model, and put to use in quantities of tens 
or twenties, it is very doubtful whether its price would 
be higher than tens of thousands of dollars. A similar 
machine of smaller capacity, not suited for the most 
difficult computational problems, but nevertheless 
quite adequate for factory control, would probably cost 
no more than a few thousand dollars in any sort of 
moderate-scale production. 

Now let us consider the problem of the mass produc- 
tion of computing machines. If the only opportunity for 
mass production were the mass production of com- 
pleted machines, it is quite clear that for a considerable 
period the best we could hope for would be a moder- 
ate-scale production. However, in each machine the 
parts are largely repetitive in very considerable num- 
bers. This is true, whether we consider the memory 
apparatus, the logical apparatus, or the arithmetical 


subassembly. Thus production of a few dozen machines 
only, represents a potential mass production of the 
parts, and is accompanied by the same economic ad- 

It may still seem that the delicacy of the machines 
must mean that each job demands a special new model. 
This is also false. Given even a rough similarity ill the 
type of mathematical and logical operations demanded 
of the mathematical and logical units of the machine, 
the over-all performance is regulated by the taping, or 
at any rate by the original taping. The taping of such 
a machine is a highly skilled task for a professional 
man of a very specialized type; but it is largely or en- 
tirely a once-for-all job, and need only be partly re- 
peated when the machine is modified for a new in- 
dustrial setup. Thus the cost of such a skilled technician 
will be distributed over a tremendous output, and will 
not really be a significant factor in the use of the ma- 

The computing machine represents the center of the 
automatic factory, but it will never be the whole fac- 
tory. On the one hand, it receives its detailed instruc- 
tions from elements of the nature of sense organs, such 
as photoelectric cells, condensers for the reading of the 
thickness of a web of paper, thermometers, hydrogen- 
ion-concentration meters, and the general run of ap- 
paratus now built by instrument companies for the 
manual control of industrial processes. These instru- 
ments are already built to report electrically at remote 
stations. All they need to enable them to introduce 
their information into an automatic high-speed com- 
puter is a reading apparatus which will translate posi- 
tion or scale into a pattern of consecutive digits. Such 
apparatus already exists, and offers no great difficulty, 
either of principle or of constructional detail. The 
sense-organ problem is not new, and it is already ef- 
fectively solved. 

Besides these sense organs, the control system must 



contain effectors, or components which act on the outer 
world. Some of these are of a type already familiar, 
such as valve-turning motors, electric clutches, and the 
like. Some of them will have to be invented, to du- 
plicate more nearly the functions of the human hand 
as supplemented by the human eye. It is altogether 
possible in the machining of automobile frames to leave 
on certain metal lugs, machined into smooth surfaces 
as points of reference. The tool, whether it be a drill 
or riveter or whatever else we want, may be led to 
the approximate neighborhood of these surfaces by a 
photoelectric mechanism, actuated for example by 
spots of paint. The final positioning may bring the tool 
up against the reference surfaces, so as to establish a 
firm contact, but not a destructively firm one. This is 
only one way of doing the job. Any competent engineer 
can think of a dozen more. 

Of course, we assume that the instruments which act 
as sense organs record not only the original state of the 
work, but also the result of all the previous processes. 
Thus the machine may carry out feedback operations, 
either those of the simple type now so thoroughly un- 
derstood, or those involving more complicated proc- 
esses of discrimination, regulated by the central control 
as a logical or mathematical system. In other words, 
the all-over system will correspond to the complete an- 
imal with sense organs, effectors, and proprioceptors, 
and not, as in the ultra-rapid computing machine, to 
an isolated brain, dependent for its experiences and 
for its effectiveness on our intervention. 

The speed with which these new devices are likely 
to come into industrial use will vary greatly with the 
different industries. Automatic machines, which may 
not be precisely like those described here, but which 
perform roughly the same functions, have already come 
into extensive use in continuous-process industries like 
canneries, steel-rolling mills, and especially wire and 
tin-plate factories. They are also familiar in paper fac- 


tories, which likewise produce a continuous output. An- 
other place where they are indispensable is in that sort 
of factory which is too dangerous for any considerable 
number of workers to risk their lives in its control, and 
in which an emergency is likely to be so serious and 
costly that its possibilities should have been considered 
in advance, rather than left to the excited judgment of 
somebody on the spot. If a policy can be thought out in 
advance, it can be committed to a taping which will 
regulate the conduct to be followed in accordance with 
the readings of the instrument. In other words, such 
factories should be under a regime rather like that of 
the interlocking signals and switches of the railroad 
signal-tower. This regime is already followed in oil- 
cracking factories, in many other chemical works, and 
in the handling of the sort of dangerous materials found 
in the exploitation of atomic energy. 

We have already mentioned the assembly line as a 
place for applying the same sorts of technique. In the 
assembly line, as in the chemical factory, or the contin- 
uous-process paper mill, it is necessary to exert a cer- 
tain statistical control on the quality of the product. 
This control depends on a sampling process. These 
sampling processes have now been developed by Wald 
and others into a technique called sequential analysis, 
in which the sampling is no longer taken in a lump, but 
is a continuous process going along with the production. 
That which can be done then by a technique so stand- 
ardized that it can be put in the hands of a statistical 
computer who does not understand the logic behind it, 
may also be executed by a computing machine. In 
other words, except again at the highest levels, the ma- 
chine takes care of the routine statistical controls, as 
well as of the production process. 

In general, factories have an accounting procedure 
which is independent of production, but insofar as the 
data which occur in cost-accounting come from the ma- 
chine or assembly line, they may be fed directly into a 



computing machine. Other data may be fed in from 
time to time by human operators, but the bulk of the 
clerical work can be handled mechanically, leaving 
only the extraordinary details such as outside corre- 
spondence for human beings. But even a large part of 
the outside correspondence may be received from the 
correspondents on punched cards, or transferred to 
punched cards by extremely low-grade labor. From this 
stage on, everything may go by machine. This mecha- 
nization also may apply to a not inappreciable part of 
the library and filing facilities of an industrial plant. 

In other words, the machine plays no favorites be- 
tween manual labor and white-collar labor. Thus the 
possible fields into which the new industrial revolution 
is likely to penetrate are very extensive, and include 
all labor performing judgments of a low level, in much 
the same way as the displaced labor of the earlier in- 
dustrial revolution included every aspect of human 
power. There will, of course, be trades into which the 
new industrial revolution will not penetrate either be- 
cause the new control machines are not economical in 
industries on so small a scale as not to be able to carry 
the considerable capital costs involved, or because 
their work is so varied that a new taping will be neces- 
sary for almost every job. I cannot see automatic ma- 
chinery of the judgment-replacing type coming into 
use in the corner grocery, or in the corner garage, al- 
though I can very well see it employed by the whole- 
sale grocer and the automobile manufacturer. The farm 
laborer too, although he is beginning to be pressed by 
automatic machinery, is protected from the full pres- 
sure of it because of the ground he has to cover, the 
variability of the crops he must till, and the special 
conditions of weather and the like that he must meet. 
Even here, the large-scale or plantation farmer is be- 
coming increasingly dependent on cotton-picking and 
weed-burning machinery, as the wheat farmer has long 
been dependent on the McCormick reaper. Where 


such machines may be used, some use of machinery of 
judgment is not inconceivable. 

The introduction of the new devices and the dates 
at which they are to be expected are, of course, largely 
economic matters, on which I am not an expert. Short 
of any violent political changes or another great war, I 
should give a rough estimate that it will take the new 
tools ten to twenty years to come into their own. A 
war would change all this overnight. If we should en- 
gage in a war with a major power like Russia, which 
would make serious demands on the infantry, and con- 
sequently on our manpower, we may be hard put to 
keep up our industrial production. Under these circum- 
stances, the matter of replacing human production by 
other modes may well be a life-or-death matter to the 
nation. We are already as far along in the process of 
developing a unified system of automatic control ma- 
chines as we were in the development of radar in 1939. 
Just as the emergency of the Battle of Britain made it 
necessary to attack the radar problem in a massive 
manner, and to hurry up the natural development of 
the field by what may have been decades, so too, the 
needs of labor replacement are likely to act on us in a 
similar way in the case of another war. Personnel such 
as skilled radio amateurs, mathematicians, and physi- 
cists, who were so rapidly turned into competent elec- 
trical engineers for the purposes of radar design, is still 
available for the similar task of automatic-machine de- 
sign. There is a new and skilled generation coming up, 
which they have trained. 

Under these circumstances, the period of about two 
years which it took for radar to get onto the battlefield 
with a high degree of effectiveness is scarcely likely to 
be exceeded by the period of evolution of the auto- 
matic factory. At the end of such a war, the "know- 
how" needed to construct such factories will be 
common. There will even be a considerable backlog of 
equipment manufactured for the government, which is 


likely to be on sale or available to the industrialists. 
Thus a new war will almost inevitably see the auto- 
matic age in full swing within less than five years. 

I have spoken of the actuality and the imminence 
of this new possibility. What can we expect of its eco- 
nomic and social consequences? In the first place, we 
can expect an abrupt and final cessation of the demand 
for the type of factory labor performing purely repeti- 
tive tasks. In the long run, the deadly uninteresting 
nature of the repetitive task may make this a good 
thing and the source of leisure necessary for man's full 
cultural development. It may also produce cultural re- 
sults as trivial and wasteful as the greater part of those 
so far obtained from the radio and the movies. 

Be that as it may, the intermediate period of the 
introduction of the new means, especially if it comes 
in the fulminating manner to be expected from a new 
war, will lead to an immediate transitional period of 
disastrous confusion. We have a good deal of experi- 
ence as to how the industrialists regard a new indus- 
trial potential. Their whole propaganda is to the effect 
that it must not be considered as the business of the 
government but must be left open to whatever entre- 
preneurs wish to invest money in it. We also know that 
they have very few inhibitions when it comes to taking 
all the profit out of an industry that there is to be taken, 
and then letting the public pick up the pieces. This is 
the history of the lumber and mining industries, and is 
part of what we have called in another chapter the 
traditional American philosophy of progress. 

Under these circumstances, industry will be flooded 
with the new tools to the extent that they appear to 
yield immediate profits, irrespective of what long-time 
damage they can do. We shall see a process parallel 
to the way in which the use of atomic energy for bombs 
has been allowed to compromise the very necessary 
potentialities of the long-time use of atomic power to 
replace our oil and coal supplies, which are within cen- 


turies, if not decades, of utter exhaustion. Note well 
that atomic bombs do not compete with power com- 

Let us remember that the automatic machine, what- 
ever we think of any feelings it may have or may not 
have, is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor. 
Any labor which competes with slave labor must ac- 
cept the economic conditions of slave labor. It is per- 
fectly clear that this will produce an unemployment 
situation, in comparison with which the present reces- 
sion and even the depression of the thirties will seem 
a pleasant joke. This depression will ruin many indus- 
tries—possibly even the industries which have taken 
advantage of the new potentialities. However, there is 
nothing in the industrial tradition which forbids an in- 
dustrialist to make a sure and quick profit, and to get 
out before the crash touches him personally. 

Thus the new industrial revolution is a two-edged 
sword. It may be used for the benefit of humanity, but 
only if humanity survives long enough to enter a period 
in which such a benefit is possible. It may also be used 
to destroy humanity, and if it is not used intelligently 
it can go very far in that direction. There are, however, 
hopeful signs on the horizon. Since the publication of 
the first edition of this book, I have participated in two 
big meetings with representatives of business manage- 
ment, and I have been delighted to see that awareness 
on the part of a great many of those present of the 
social dangers of our new technology and the social 
obligations of those responsible for management to see 
that the new modalities are used for the benefit of man, 
for increasing his leisure and enriching his spiritual life, 
rather than merely for profits and the worship of the 
machine as a new brazen calf. There are many dangers 
still ahead, but the roots of good will are there, and I 
do not feel as thoroughly pessimistic as I did at the 
time of the publication of the first edition of this book. 



I devoted the last chapter to the problem of the in- 
dustrial and social impact of certain control machines 
which are already beginning to show important pos- 
sibilities for the replacement of human labor. However, 
there are a variety of problems concerning automata 
which have nothing whatever to do with our factory 
system but serve either to illustrate and throw light on 
the possibilities of communicative mechanisms in gen- 
eral, or for semi-medical purposes for the prosthesis 
and replacement of human functions which have been 
lost or weakened in certain unfortunate individuals. 
The first machine which we shall discuss was designed 
for theoretical purposes as an illustration to an earlier 
piece of work which had been done by me on paper 
some years ago, together with my colleagues, Dr. Ar- 
turo Rosenblueth and Dr. Julian Bigelow. In this work 
we conjectured that the mechanism of voluntary ac- 
tivity was of a feedback nature, and accordingly, we 
sought in the human voluntary activity for the charac- 
teristics of breakdown which feedback mechanisms ex- 
hibit when they are overloaded. 

The simplest type of breakdown exhibits itself as an 
oscillation in a goal-seeking process which appears only 
when that process is actively invoked. This corresponds 
rather closely to the human phenomenon known as in- 
tention tremor, in which, for example, when the pa- 
tient reaches for a glass of water, his hand swings wider 
and wider, and he cannot lift up the glass. 


There is another type of human tremor which is in 
some ways diametrically opposite to intention tremor. 
It is known as Parkinsonianism, and is familiar to all of 
us as the shaking palsy of old men. Here the patient 
displays the tremor even at rest; and, in fact, if the 
disease is not too greatly marked, only at rest. When 
he attempts to accomplish a definite purpose this 
tremor subsides to such an extent that the victim of an 
early stage of Parkinsonianism can even be a 
eye surgeon. 

The three of us associated this Parkinsonian tremor 
with an aspect of feedback slightly different from the 
feedback associated with the accomplishment of pur- 
pose. In order to accomplish a purpose successfully, 
the various joints which are not directly associated with 
purposive movement must be kept in such a condition 
of mild tonus or tension, that the final purposive con- 
traction of the muscles is properly backed up. In order 
to do this, a secondary feedback mechanism is required, 
whose locus in the brain does not seem to be the cere- 
bellum, which is the central control station of the 
mechanism which breaks down in intention tremor. 
This second sort of feedback is known as postural feed- 

It can be shown mathematically that in both cases of 
tremor the feedback is excessively large. Now, when 
we consider the feedback which is important in Par- 
kinsonianism, it turns out that the voluntary feedback 
which regulates the main motion is in the opposite di- 
rection to the postural feedback as far as the motion of 
the parts regulated by the postural feedback is con- 
cerned. Therefore, the existence of a purpose tends to 
cut down the excessive amplification of postural feed- 
back, and may very well bring it below the oscillation 
level. These things were very well known to us theoret- 
ically, but until recently we had not gone to the trouble 
of making a working model of them. However, it be- 


came desirable for us to construct a demonstration ap- 
paratus which would act according to our theories. 

Accordingly, Professor J. B. Wiesner of the Electron- 
ics Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Tech- 
nology discussed with me the possibility of constructing 
a tropism machine or machine with a simple fixed 
built-in purpose, with parts sufficiently adjustable to 
show the main phenomena of voluntary feedback, and 
of what we have just called postural feedback, and their 
breakdown. At our suggestion, Mr. Henry Singleton 
took up the problem of building such a machine, and 
carried it to a brilliant and successful conclusion. This 
machine has two principal modes of action, in one of 
which it is positively photo-tropic and searches for 
light, and in the other of which it is negatively photo- 
tropic and runs away from light. We called the ma- 
chine in its two respective functions, the Moth and the 
Bedbug. The machine consists of a little three- wheeled 
cart with a propelling motor on the rear axle. The front, 
wheel is a caster steered by a tiller. The cart carries a 
pair of forwardly directed photo cells, one of which 
takes in the left quadrant, while the other takes in the 
right quadrant. These cells are the opposite arms of a 
bridge. The output of the bridge which is reversible, 
is put through an adjustable amplifier. After this it goes 
to a positioning motor which regulates the position of 
one contact with a potentiometer. The other contact is 
also regulated by a positioning motor which moves the 
tiller as well. The output of the potentiometer which 
represents the difference between the position of the 
two positioning motors leads through a second adjust- 
able amplifier to the second positioning motor, thus reg- 
ulating the tiller. 

According to the direction of the output of the 
bridge, this instrument will be steered either toward 
the quadrant with more intense light or away from it. 
In either case, it automatically tends to balance itself. 
There is thus a feedback dependent on the source of 


light proceeding from the light to the photoelectric 
cells, and thence to the rudder control system, by which 
it finally regulates the direction of its own motion and 
changes the angle of incidence of the light. 

This feedback tends to accomplish the purpose of 
either positive or negative photo-tropism. It is the an- 
alogue of a voluntary feedback, for in man we consider 
that a voluntary action is essentially a choice among 
tropisms. When this feedback is overloaded by increas- 
ing the amplification, the little cart or "the moth" or 
"the bedbug" according to the direction of its tropism 
will seek the light or avoid it in an oscillatory manner, 
in which the oscillations grow ever larger. This is a 
close analogue to the phenomenon of intention tremor, 
which is associated with injury to the cerebellum. 

The positioning mechanism for the rudder contains 
a second feedback which may be considered as pos- 
tural. This feedback runs from the potentiometer to the 
second motor and back to the potentiometer, and its 
zero point is regulated by the output of the first feed- 
back. If this is overloaded, the rudder goes into a sec- 
ond sort of tremor. This second tremor appears in the 
absence of light: that is, when the machine is not given 
a purpose. Theoretically, this is due to the fact that as 
far as the second mechanism is concerned, the action 
of the first mechanism is antagonistic to its feedback, 
and tends to decrease its amount. This phenomenon 
in man is what we have described as Parkinsonianism. 

I have recently received a letter from Dr. Grey Wal- 
ter of the Burden Neurological Institute at Bristol, 
England, in which he expresses interest in "the moth" 
or "bedbug," and in which he tells me of a similar mech- 
anism of his own, which differs from mine in having a 
determined but variable purpose. In his own language, 
"We have included features other than inverse feed- 
back which gives to it an exploratory and ethical atti- 
tude to the universe as well as a purely tropistic one." 
The possibility of such a change in behavior pattern is 


discussed in the chapter of this book concerning learn- 
ing, and this discussion is directly relevant to the Wal- 
ter machine, although at present I do not know just 
what means he uses to secure such a type of behavior. 

The moth and Dr. Walter's further development of a 
tropism machine seem to be at first sight exercises in 
virtuosity, or at most, mechanical commentaries to a 
philosophical text. Nevertheless, they have a certain 
definite usefulness. The United States Army Medical 
Corps has taken photographs of "the moth" to compare 
with photographs of actual cases of nervous tremor, so 
that they are thus of assistance in the instruction of 
army neurologists. 

There is a second class of machines with which we 
have also been concerned which has a much more di- 
rect and immediately important medical value. These 
machines may be used to make up for the losses of the 
maimed and of the sensorily deficient, as well as to 
give new and potentially dangerous powers to the al- 
ready powerful. The help of the machine may extend 
to the construction of better artificial limbs; to instru- 
ments to help the blind to read pages of ordinary text 
by translating the visual pattern into auditory terms; 
and to other similar aids to make them aware of ap- 
proaching dangers and to give them freedom of locomo- 
tion. In particular, we may use the machine to aid the 
totally deaf. Aids of this last class are probably the eas- 
iest to construct; partly because the technique of the 
telephone is the best studied and most familiar tech- 
nique of communication; partly because the depriva- 
tion of hearing is overwhelmingly a deprivation of one 
thing— free participation in human conversation; and 
partly because the useful information carried by 
speech can be compressed into such a narrow compass 
that it is not beyond the carrying-power of the sense of 

Some time ago, Professor Wiesner told me that he 
was interested in the possibility of constructing an aid 


for the totally deaf, and that he would like to hear my 
views on the subject. I gave my views, and it turned 
out that we were of much the same opinion. We were 
aware of the work that had already been done on vis- 
ible speech at the Bell Telephone Laboratories, and 
its relation to their earlier work on the Vocoder. We 
knew that the Vocoder work gave us a measure of the 
amount of information which it was necessary to trans- 
mit for the intelligibility of speech more favorable than 
that of any previous method. We felt, however, that 
visible speech had two disadvantages; namely, that it 
did not seem to be easy to produce in a portable form, 
and that it made too heavy demands on the sense of 
vision, which is relatively more important for the deaf 
person than for the rest of us. A rough estimate showed 
that a transfer to the sense of touch of the principle 
used in the visible-speech instrument was possible, and 
this we decided should be the basis of our apparatus. 

We found out very soon after starting that the inves- 
tigators at the Bell Laboratories had also considered 
the possibility of a tactile reception of sound, and had 
included it in their patent application. They were kind 
enough to tell us that they had done no experimental 
work on it, and that they left us free to go ahead on our 
researches. Accordingly, we put the design and devel- 
opment of this apparatus into the hands of Mr. Leon 
Levine, a graduate student in the Electronics Labora- 
tory. We foresaw that the problem of training would 
be a large part of the work necessary to bring our de- 
vice into actual use, and here we had the benefit of 
the counsel of Dr. Alexander Bavelas of our Depart- 
ment of Psychology. 

The problem of interpreting speech through another 
sense than that of hearing, such as the sense of touch, 
may be given the following interpretation from the 
point of view of language. As we have said, we may 
roughly distinguish three stages of language, and two 
intermediate translations, between the outside world 


and the subjective receipt of information. The first 
stage consists in the acoustic symbols taken physically 
as vibrations in the air; the second or phonetic stage 
consists in the various phenomena in the inner ear and 
the associated part of the nervous system; the third or 
semantic stage represents the transfer of these symbols 
into an experience of meaning. 

In the case of the deaf person, the first and the third 
stages are still present, but the second stage is missing. 
However, it is perfectly conceivable that we may re- 
place the second stage by one by-passing the sense of 
hearing and proceeding, for example, through the 
sense of touch. Here the translation between the first 
stage and the new second stage is performed, not by 
a physical-nervous apparatus which is born into us but 
by an artificial, humanly-constructed system. The 
translation between the new second stage and the third 
stage is not directly accessible to our inspection, but 
represents the formation of a new system of habits and 
responses, such as those we develop when we learn to 
drive a car. The present status of our apparatus is this: 
the transition between the first and the new second 
stage is well under control, although there are certain 
technical difficulties still to be overcome. We are mak- 
ing studies of the learning process; that is, of the transi- 
tion between the second and third stages; and in our 
opinion, they seem extremely promising. The best re- 
sult that we can show as yet, is that with a learned 
vocabulary of twelve simple words, a run of eighty ran- 
dom repetitions was made with only six errors. 

In our work, we had to keep certain facts always in 
mind. First among these, as we have said, is the fact 
that hearing is not only a sense of communication, but 
a sense of communication which receives its chief use 
in establishing a rapport with other individuals. It is 
also a sense corresponding to certain communicative 
activities on our part: namely, those of speech. Other 
uses of hearing are important, such as the reception of 


the sounds of nature and the appreciation of music, but 
they are not so important that we should consider a 
person as socially deaf if he shared in the ordinary, in- 
terpersonal communication by speech, and in no other 
use of hearing. In other words, hearing has the prop- 
erty that if we are deprived of all its uses except that of 
speech-communication with other people, we should 
still be suffering under a minimal handicap. 

For the purpose of sensory prosthesis, we must con- 
sider the entire speech process as a unit. How essential 
this is is immediately observed when we consider the 
speech of deaf-mutes. With most deaf-mutes, a training 
in lip-reading is neither impossible nor excessively dif- 
ficult, to the extent that such persons can achieve a 
quite tolerable proficiency in receiving speech-mes- 
sages from others. On the other hand, and with very 
few exceptions, and these the result of the best and 
most recent training, the vast majority of deaf-mutes, 
though they can learn how to use their lips and mouths 
to produce sound, do so with a grotesque and harsh 
intonation, which represents a highly inefficient form of 
sending a message. 

The difficulties lie in the fact that for these people 
the act of conversation has been broken into two en- 
tirely separate parts. We may simulate the situation for 
the normal person very easily if we give him a tele- 
phone-communication-system with another person, in 
which his own speech is not transmitted by the tele- 
phone to his own ears. It is very easy to construct such 
dead-microphone transmission systems, and they have 
actually been considered by the telephone companies, 
only to be rejected because of the frightful sense of 
frustration they cause, especially the frustration of not 
knowing how much of one's own voice gets onto the 
line. People using a system of this sort are always 
forced to yell at the top of their voices, to be sure that 
they have missed no opportunity to get the message 
accepted by the line. 


1 7 1 

We now come back to ordinary speech. We see that 
the processes of speech and hearing in the normal per- 
son have never been separated; but that the very learn- 
ing of speech has been conditioned by the fact that 
each individual hears himself speak. For the best re- 
sults it is not enough that the individual hear himself 
speak at widely separated occasions, and that he fill in 
the gaps between these by memory. A good quality of 
speech can only be attained when it is subject to a 
continuous monitoring and self-criticism. Any aid to the 
totally deaf must take advantage of this fact, and al- 
though it may indeed appeal to another sense, such as 
that of touch, rather than to the missing sense of hear- 
ing, it must resemble the electric hearing-aids of the 
present day in being portable and continuously worn. 

The further philosophy of prosthesis for hearing de- 
pends on the amount of information effectively used in 
hearing. The crudest evaluation of this amount involves 
the estimate of the maximum that can be commu- 
nicated over a sound range of 10,000 cycles, and an 
amplitude range of some 80 decibels. This load of com- 
munication, however, while it marks the maximum of 
what the ear could conceivably do, is much too great to 
represent the effective information given by speech in 
practice. In the first place, speech of telephone quality 
does not involve the transmission of more than 3000 
cycles; and the amplitude range is certainly not more 
than from 5 to 10 decibels; but even here, while we 
have not exaggerated what is transmitted to the ear, we 
are still grossly exaggerating what is used by the ear 
and brain to reconstitute recognizable speech. 

We have said that the best work done on this prob- 
lem of estimation is the Vocoder work of the Bell Tele- 
phone Laboratories. It may be used to show that if 
human speech is properly divided into not more than 
five bands, and if these are rectified so that only their 
form-envelopes or outer shapes are perceived, and are 
used to modulate quite arbitrary sounds within their 


frequency range, then if these sounds are finally added 
up, the original speech is recognizable as speech and 
almost recognizable as the speech of a particular in- 
dividual. Nevertheless the amount of possible informa- 
tion transmitted, used or unused, has been cut to not 
more than a tenth or hundredth of the original potential 
information present. 

When we distinguish between used and unused in- 
formation in speech, we distinguish between the max- 
imum coding capacity of speech as received by the 
ear, and the maximum capacity that penetrates 
through the cascade network of successive stages con- 
sisting of the ear followed by the brain. The first is 
only relevant to the transmission of speech through the 
air and through intermediate instruments like the tele- 
phone, followed by the ear itself, but not by whatever 
apparatus in the brain is used in the understanding of 
speech. The second refers to the transmitting power of 
the entire complex— air— telephone— ear— brain. Of 
course, there may be finer shades of inflection which 
do not get through to the over-all narrow-band trans- 
mission system of which we are speaking, and it is hard 
to evaluate the amount of lost information carried by 
these; but it seems to be relatively small. This is the 
idea behind the Vocoder. The earlier engineering es- 
timates of information were defective in that they ig- 
nored the terminating element of the chain from the 
air to the brain. 

In appealing to the other senses of a deaf person, we 
must realize that apart from sight, all others are in- 
ferior to it, and transmit less information per unit time. 
The only way we can make an inferior sense like touch 
work with maximum efficiency is to send through it not 
the full information that we get through hearing, but 
an edited portion of that hearing suitable for the un- 
derstanding of speech. In other words, we replace part 
of the function that the cortex normally performs after 
the reception of sound, by a filtering of our information 



before it goes through the tactile receptors. We thus 
transfer part of the function of the cortex of the brain 
to an artificial external cortex. The precise way we do 
this in the apparatus we are considering is by separat- 
ing the frequency bands of speech as in the Vocoder, 
and then by transmitting these different rectified bands 
to spatially distant tactile regions, after they have been 
used to modulate vibrations of frequencies easily per- 
ceived by the skin. For example, five bands may be 
sent respectively to the thumb and four fingers of one 

This gives us the main ideas of the apparatus needed 
for the reception of intelligible speech through sound 
vibrations transformed electrically into touch. We have 
gone far enough already to know that the patterns of 
a considerable number of words are sufficiently distinct 
from one another, and sufficiently consistent among a 
number of speakers, to be recognized without any 
great amount of speech training. From this point on, 
the chief direction of investigation must be that of the 
more thorough training of deaf-mutes in the recogni- 
tion and the reproduction of sounds. On the engineer- 
ing end, we shall have considerable problems concern- 
ing the portability of the apparatus, and the reduction 
of its energy demands, without any substantial loss of 
performance. These matters are all still sub judice. I 
do not wish to establish false and in particular pre- 
mature hopes on the part of the afflicted and their 
friends, but I think it is safe to say that the prospect of 
success is far from hopeless. 

Since the publication of the first edition of this book, 
new special devices for elucidating points in the theory 
of communciation have been developed by other work- 
ers. I have already mentioned in an earlier chapter the 
homeostats of Dr. Ashby and the somewhat similar 
machines of Dr. Grey Walter. Here let me mention 
some earlier machines of Dr. Walter, somewhat simi- 
lar to my "moth" or "bug," but which were built for a 


different purpose. For these phototopic machines, each 
element carries a light so that it can stimulate the 
others. Thus a number of them put into operation at 
the same time show certain groupings and mutual re- 
actions which would be interpreted by most animal 
psychologists as social behavior if they were found en- 
cased in flesh and blood instead of brass and steel. It 
is the beginning of a new science of mechanical behav- 
ior even though almost all of it lies in the future. 

Here at M.I.T. circumstances have made it difficult 
to carry work on the hearing glove much further during 
the last two years, although the possibility of its de- 
velopment still exists. Meanwhile, the theory— although 
not the detail of the device— has led to improvements 
in apparatus to allow the blind to get themselves 
through a maze of streets and buildings. This research 
is largely the work of Dr. Clifford M. Witcher, himself 
congenitally blind, who is an outstanding authority 
and technician in optics, electrical engineering, and the 
other fields necessary to this work. 

A prosthetic device which looks hopeful but has not 
yet been subjected to any real development or final 
criticism is an artificial lung in which the activation of 
the breathing motor will depend on signals, electrical 
or mechanical, from the weakened but not destroyed 
breathing muscles of the patient. In this case, the nor- 
mal feedback in the medulla and brain stem of the 
healthy person will be used even in the paralytic to 
supply the control of his breathing. Thus it is hoped 
that the so-called iron lung may no longer be a prison 
in which the patient forgets how to breathe, but will 
be an exerciser for keeping his residual faculties of 
breathing active, and even possibly of building them 
up to a point where he can breathe for himself and 
emerge from the machinery enclosing him. 

Up to the present, we have been discussing machines 
which as far as the general public is concerned seem 
either to share the characteristic detachment from im- 



mediate human concerns of theoretical science or to be 
definitely beneficent aids to the maimed. We now come 
to another class of machines which possess some very 
sinister possibilities. Curiously enough, this class con- 
tains the automatic chess-playing machine. 

Sometime ago, I suggested a way in which one 
might use the modern computing machine to play at 
least a passable game of chess. In this work, I am 
following up a line of thought which has a considerable 
history behind it. Poe discussed a fraudulent chess- 
playing machine due to Maelzel, and exposed it; show- 
ing that it was worked by a legless cripple inside. How- 
ever, the machine I have in mind is a genuine one, 
and takes advantage of recent progress in computing 
machines. It is easy to make a machine that will play 
merely legal chess of a very poor brand; it is hopeless 
to try to make a machine to play perfect chess for 
such a machine would require too many combinations. 
Professor John von Neumann of the Institute for Ad- 
vanced Studies at Princeton has commented on this 
difficulty. However, it is neither easy nor hopeless to 
make a machine which we can guarantee to do the 
best that can be done for a limited number of moves 
ahead, say two; and which will then leave itself in the 
position that is the most favorable in accordance with 
some more or less easy method of evaluation. 

The present ultra-rapid computing machines may be 
set up to act as chess-playing machines, though a better 
machine might be made at an exorbitant price if we 
chose to put the work into it. The speed of these mod- 
ern computing machines is enough so that they can 
evaluate every possibility for two moves ahead in the 
legal playing-time of a single move. The number of 
combinations increases roughly in geometrical pro- 
gression. Thus the difference between playing out all 
possibilities for two moves and for three moves is enor- 
mous. To play out a game— something like fifty moves- 
is hopeless in any reasonable time. Yet for beings living 


long enough, as von Neumann has shown, it would 
be possible; and a game played perfectly on each side 
would lead, as a foregone conclusion, either always to 
a win for White, or always to a win for Black, or most 
probably always to a draw. 

Mr. Claude Shannon of the Bell Telephone Labora- 
tories has suggested a machine along the same lines as 
the two-move machine I had contemplated, but con- 
siderably improved. To begin with, his evaluation of the 
final position after two moves would make allowances 
for the control of the board, for the mutual protection • 
of the pieces, etc., as well as the number of pieces, 
check, and checkmate. Then too, if at the end of two 
moves, the game should be unstable, by the existence 
of check, or of an important piece in a position to be 
taken, or of a fork, the mechanical player would auto- 
matically play a move or two ahead until stability 
should be reached. How much this would slow the 
game, lengthening each move beyond the legal limit, 
I do not know; although I am not convinced that we 
can go very far in this direction without getting into 
time trouble at our present speeds. 

I am willing to accept Shannon's conjecture that 
such a machine would play chess of a high amateur 
level and even possibly of a master level. Its game 
would be stiff and rather uninteresting, but much safer 
than that of any human player. As Shannon points out, 
it is possible to put enough chance in its operation to 
prevent its constant defeat in a. purely systematic way 
by a given rigid sequence of plays. This chance or 
uncertainty may be built into the evaluation of ter- 
minal positions after two moves. 

The machine would play gambits and possibly end 
games like a human player from the store of standard 
gambits and end games. A better machine would store 
on a tape every game it had ever played and would 
supplement the processes which we have already in- 
dicated by a search through all past games to find 



something apropos: in short, by the power of learning. 
Though we have seen that machines can be built to 
learn, the technique of building and employing these 
machines is still very imperfect. The time is not yet 
ripe for the design of a chess-playing machine on learn- 
ing principles, although it probably does not lie very 
far in the future. 

A chess-playing machine which learns might show a 
great range of performance, dependent on the quality 
of the players against whom it had been pitted. The 
best way to make a master machine would probably 
be to pit it against a wide variety of good chess players. 
On the other hand, a well-contrived machine might 
be more or less ruined by the injudicious choice of its 
opponents. A horse is also ruined if the wrong riders 
are allowed to spoil it. 

In the learning machine, it is well to distinguish what 
the machine can learn and what it cannot. A machine 
may be built either with a statistical preference for a 
certain sort of behavior, which nevertheless admits the 
possibility of other behavior; or else certain features 
of its behavior may be rigidly and unalterably deter- 
mined. We shall call the first sort of determination 
preference, and the second sort of determination con- 
straint. For example, if the rules of legal chess are not 
built into a chess-playing machine as constraints, and 
if the machine is given the power to learn, it may 
change without notice from a chess-playing machine 
into a machine doing a totally different task. On the 
other hand, a chess-playing machine with the rules 
built in as constraints may still be a learning machine 
as to tactics and policies. 

The reader may wonder why we are interested in 
chess-playing machines at all. Are they not merely an- 
other harmless little vanity by which experts in design 
seek to show off their proficiency to a world which they 
hope will gasp and wonder at their accomplishments? 
As an honest man, I cannot deny that a certain element 


of ostentatious narcissism is present in me, at least. 
However, as you will soon see, it is not the only ele- 
ment active here, nor is it that which is of the greatest 
importance to the non-professional reader. 

Mr. Shannon has presented some reasons why his 
researches may be of more importance than the mere 
design of a curiosity, interesting only to those who are 
playing a game. Among these possibilities, he suggests 
that such a machine may be the first step in the con- 
struction of a machine to evaluate military situations 
and to determine the best move at any specific stage. 
Let no man think that he is talking lightly. The great 
book of von Neumann and Morgenstern on the Theory 
of Games has made a profound impression on the world, 
and not least in Washington. When Mr. Shannon speaks 
of the development of military tactics, he is not talking 
moonshine, but is discussing a most imminent and 
dangerous contingency. 

In the well-known Paris journal, he Monde, for 
December 28, 1948, a certain Dominican friar, Pere 
Dubarle, has written a very penetrating review of my 
book Cybernetics. I shall quote a suggestion of his 
which carries out some of the dire implications of the 
chess-playing machine grown up and encased in a suit 
of armor. 

One of the most fascinating prospects thus opened 
is that of the rational conduct of human affairs, and in 
particular of those which interest communities and seem 
to present a certain statistical regularity, such as the hu- 
man phenomena of the development of opinion. Can't 
one imagine a machine to collect this or that type of 
information, as for example information on production 
and the market; and then to determine as a function of 
the average psychology of human beings, and of the 
quantities which it is possible to measure in a determined 
instance, what the most probable development of the 
situation might be? Can't one even conceive a State ap- 
paratus covering all systems of political decisions, either 
under a regime of many states distributed over the earth, 



or under the apparently much more simple regime of a 
human government of this planet? At present nothing 
prevents our thinking of this. We may dream of the time 
when the machine d gouverner may come to supply— 
whether for good or evil— the present obvious inade- 
quacy of the brain when the latter is concerned with the 
customary machinery of politics. 

At all events, human realities do not admit a sharp 
and certain determination, as numerical data of computa- 
tion do. They only admit the determination of their prob- 
able values. A machine to treat these processes, and the 
problems which they put, must therefore undertake the 
sort of probabilistic, rather than deterministic thought, 
such as is exhibited for example in modern computing 
machines. This makes its task more complicated, but 
does not render it impossible. The prediction machine 
which determines the efficacy of anti-aircraft fire is an 
example of this. Theoretically, time prediction is not im- 
possible; neither is the determination of the most favor- 
able decision, at least within certain limits. The 
possibility of playing machines such as the chess-playing 
machine is considered to establish this. For the human 
processes which constitute the object of government may 
be assimilated to games in the sense in which von Neu- 
mann has studied them mathematically. Even though 
these games have an incomplete set of rules, there are 
other games with a very large number of players, where 
the data are extremely complex. The machines d gouv- 
erner will define the State as the best-informed player 
at each particular level; and the State is the only su- 
preme co-ordinator of all partial decisions. These are 
enormous privileges; if they are acquired scientifically, 
they will permit the State under all circumstances to 
beat every player of a human game other than itself by 
offering this dilemma: either immediate ruin, or planned 
co-operation. This will be the consequences of the game 
itself without outside violence. The lovers of the best of 
worlds have something indeed to dream of! 

Despite all this, and perhaps fortunately, the machine 
d gouverner is not ready for a very near tomorrow. For 
outside of the very serious problems which the volume 
of information to be collected and to be treated rapidly 


still put, the problems of the stability of prediction re- 
main beyond what we can seriously dream of controlling. 
For human processes are assimilable to games with in- 
completely defined rules, and above all, with the rules 
themselves functions of the time. The variation of the 
rules depends both on the effective detail of the situa- 
tions engendered by the game itself, and on the system 
of psychological reactions of the players in the face of 
the results obtained at each instant. 

It may even be more rapid than these. A very good 
example of this seems to be given by what happened to 
the Gallup Poll in the 1948 election. All this not only 
tends to complicate the degree of the factors which in- 
fluence prediction, but perhaps to make radically sterile 
the mechanical manipulation of human situations. As far 
as one can judge, only two conditions here can guarantee 
stabilization in the mathematical sense of the term. 
These are, on the one hand, a sufficient ignorance on the 
part of the mass of the players exploited by a skilled 
player, who moreover may plan a method of paralyzing 
the consciousness of the masses; or on the other, suffi- 
cient good-will to allow one, for the sake of the stability 
of the game, to refer his decisions to one or a few players 
of the game who have arbitrary privileges. This is a hard 
lesson of cold mathematics, but it throws a certain light 
on the adventure of our century: hesitation between an 
indefinite turbulence of human affairs and the rise of a 
prodigious Leviathan. In comparison with this, Hobbes' 
Leviathan was nothing but a pleasant joke. We are run- 
ning the risk nowadays of a great World State, where 
deliberate and conscious primitive injustice may be the 
only possible condition for the statistical happiness of the 
masses: a world worse than hell for every clear mind. 
Perhaps it would not be a bad idea for the teams at 
present creating cybernetics to add to their cadre of 
technicians, who have come from all horizons of science, 
some serious anthropologists, and perhaps a philosopher 
who has some curiosity as to world matters. 

The machine a gouverner of Pere Dubarle is not 
frightening because of any danger that it may achieve 
autonomous control over humanity. It is far too crude 



and imperfect to exhibit a one-thousandth part of the 
purposive independent behavior of the human being. 
Its real danger, however, is the quite different one that 
such machines, though helpless by themselves, may 
be used by a human being or a block of human beings 
to increase their control over the rest of the human 
race or that political leaders may attempt to control 
their populations by means not of machines themselves 

but through political techniques as narrow and in- 
different to human possibility as if they had, in fact, 
been conceived mechanically. The great weakness of 
the machine— the weakness that saves us so far from 
being dominated by it— is that it cannot yet take into 
account the vast range of probability that character- 
izes the human situation. The dominance of the ma- 
chine presupposes a society in the last stages of 
increasing entropy, where probability is negligible and 
where the statistical differences among individuals are 
nil. Fortunately we have not yet reached such a state. 

But even without the state machine of Pere Dubarle 
we are already developing new concepts of war, of 
economic conflict, and of propaganda on the basis of 
von Neumann's Theory of Games, which is itself a com- 
municational theory, as the developments of the- 1950s 
have already shown. This theory of games, as I have 
said in an earlier chapter, contributes to the theory of 
language, but there are in existence government agen- 
cies bent on applying it to military and quasi-military 
aggressive and defensive purposes. 

The theory of games is, in its essence, based on an 
arrangement of players or coalitions of players each of 
whom is bent on developing a strategy for accom- 
plishing its purposes, assuming that its antagonists, as 
well as itself, are each engaging in the best policy for 
victory. This great game is already being carried on 
mechanistically, and on a colossal scale. While the 
philosophy behind it is probably not acceptable to our 
present opponents, the Communists, there are strong 



signs that its possibilities are already being studied in 
Russia as well as here, and that the Russians, not con- 
tent with accepting the theory as we have presented it, 
have conceivably refined it in certain important re- 
spects. In particular, much of the work, although not 
all, which we have done on the theory of games, is 
based on the assumption that both we and our oppo- 
nents have unlimited capabilities and that the only 
restrictions within which we play depend on what we 
may call the cards dealt to us or the visible positions 
on the chess board. There is a considerable amount 
of evidence, rather in deed than in words, that the 
Russians have supplemented this attitude to the world 
game by considering the psychological limits of the 
players and especially their fatigability as part of the 
game itself. A sort of machine d gouverner is thus now 
essentially in operation on both sides of the world con- 
flict, although it does not consist in either case of a 
single machine which makes policy, but rather of a 
mechanistic technique which is adapted to the 'exigen- 
cies of a machine-like group of men devoted to the 
formation of policy. 

Pere Dubarle has called the attention of the sci- 
entist to the growing military and political mechani- 
zation of the world as a great superhuman apparatus 
working on cybernetic principles. In order to avoid the 
manifold dangers of this, both external and internal, 
he is quite right in his emphasis on the need for the 
anthropologist and the philosopher. In other words, we 
must know as scientists what man's nature is and what 
his built-in purposes are, even when we must wield 
this knowledge as soldiers and as statesmen; and we 
must know why we wish to control him. 

When I say that the machine's danger to society is 
not from the machine itself but from what man makes 
of it, I am really underlining the warning of Samuel 
Butler. In Erewhon he conceives machines otherwise 
unable to act, as conquering mankind by the use of 


men as the subordinate organs. Nevertheless, we must 
not take Butler's foresight too seriously, as in fact at 
his time neither he nor anyone around him could un- 
derstand the true nature of the behavior of automata, 
and his statements are rather incisive figures of speech 
than scientific remarks. 

Our papers have been making a great deal of Amer- 
ican "know-how" ever since we had the misfortune to 
discover the atomic bomb. There is one quality more 
important than "know-how" and we cannot accuse the 
United States of any undue amount of it. This is "know- 
what" by which we determine not only how to accom- 
plish our purposes, but what our purposes are to be. I 
can distinguish between the two by an example. Some 
years ago, a prominent American engineer bought an 
expensive player-piano. It became clear after a week 
or two that this purchase did not correspond to any 
particular interest in the music played by the piano 
but rather to an overwhelming interest in the piano 
mechanism. For this gentleman, the player-piano was 
not a means of producing music, but a means of giving 
some inventor the chance of showing how skillful he 
was at overcoming certain difficulties in the production 
of music. This is an estimable attitude in a second- 
year high-school student. How estimable it is in one of 
those on whom the whole cultural future of the country 
depends, I leave to the reader. 

In the myths and fairy tales that we read as children 
we learned a few of the simpler and more obvious 
truths of life, such as that when a djinnee is found in 
a bottle, it had better be left there; that the fisherman 
who craves a boon from heaven too many times on 
behalf of his wife will end up exactly where he started; 
that if you are given three wishes, you must be very 
careful what you wish for. These simple and obvious 
truths represent the childish equivalent of the tragic 
view of life which the Greeks and many modern 


Europeans possess, and which is somehow missing in 
this land of plenty. 

The Greeks regarded the act of discovering fire with 
very split emotions. On the one hand, fire was for them 
as for us a great benefit to all humanity. On the other, 
the carrying down of fire from heaven to earth was a 
defiance of the Gods of Olympus, and could not but 
be punished by them as a piece of insolence towards 
their prerogatives. Thus we see the great figure of 
Prometheus, the fire-bearer, the prototype of the sci- 
entist; a hero but a hero damned, chained on the 
Caucasus with vultures gnawing at his liver. We read 
the ringing lines of Aeschylus in which the bound god 
calls on the whole world under the sun to bear witness 
to what torments he suffers at the hands of the gods. 

The sense of tragedy is that the world is not a 
pleasant little nest made for our protection, but a vast 
and largely hostile environment, in which we can 
achieve great things only by defying the gods; and that 
this defiance inevitably brings its own punishment. It 
is a dangerous world, in which there is no security, save 
the somewhat negative one of humility and restrained 
ambitions. It is a world in which there is a condign 
punishment, not only for him who sins in conscious 
arrogance, but for him whose sole crime is ignorance of 
the gods and the world around him. 

If a man with this tragic sense approaches, not fire, 
but another manifestation of original power, like the 
splitting of the atom, he will do so with fear and 
trembling. He will not leap in where angels fear to 
tread, unless he is prepared to accept the punishment 
of the fallen angels. Neither will he calmly transfer 
to the machine made in his own image the responsi- 
bility for his choice of good and evil, without con- 
tinuing to accept a full responsibility for that choice. 

I have said that the modern man, and especially the 
modern American, however much "know-how" he may 
have, has very little "know-what." He will accept the 



superior dexterity of the machine-made decisions with 
out too much inquiry as to the motives and principles 
behind these. In doing so, he will put himself sooner 
or later in the position of the father in W. W. Jacobs' 
The Monkey's Paw, who has wished for a hundred 
pounds, only to find at his door the agent of the com- 
pany for which his son works, tendering him one 
hundred pounds as a consolation for his son's death at 
the factory. Or again, he may do it in the way of the 
Arab fisherman in the One Tlwusand and One Nights, 
when he broke the Seal of Solomon on the lid of the 
bottle which contained the angry djinnee. 

Let us remember that there are game-playing ma- 
chines both of the Monkey's Paw type and of the type 
of the Bottled Djinnee. Any machine constructed for 
the purpose of making decisions, if it does not possess 
the power of learning, will be completely literal- 
minded. Woe to us if we let it decide our conduct, 
unless we have previously examined the laws of its 
action, and know fully that its conduct will be carried 
out on principles acceptable to us! On the other hand, 
the machine like the djinnee, which can learn and can 
make decisions on the basis of its learning, will in no 
way be obliged to make such decisions as we should 
have made, or will be acceptable to us. For the man 
who is not aware of this, to throw the problem of his 
responsibility on the machine, whether it can learn or 
not, is to cast his responsibility to the winds, and to 
find it coming back seated on the whirlwind. 

I have spoken of machines, but not only of machines 
having brains of brass and thews of iron. When human 
atoms are knit into an organization in which they are 
used, not in their full right as responsible human be- 
ings, but as cogs and levers and rods, it matters little 
that their raw material is flesh and blood. What is used 
as an element in a machine, is in fact an element in 
the machine. Whether we entrust our decisions to ma- 
chines of metal, or to those machines of flesh and blood 


which are bureaus and vast laboratories and armies 
and corporations, we shall never receive the right an- 
swers to our questions unless we ask the right questions. 
The Monkey's Paw of skin and bone is quite as deadly 
as anything cast out of steel and iron. The djinnee 
which is a unifying figure of speech for a whole 
corporation is just as fearsome as if it were a glorified 
conjuring trick. 

The hour is very late, and the choice of good and 
evil knocks at our door. 



In Chapter IV, I have referred to some very inter- 
esting work recently carried out by Dr. Benoit Man- 
delbrot of Paris and Professor Jacobson of Harvard on 
various phenomena of language including, among 
other things, a discussion of the optimum distribution 
of the length of words. It is not my intention to go into 
the detail of this work in the present chapter, but rather 
to develop the consequences of certain philosophical 
assumptions made by these two writers. 

They consider communication to be a game played 
in partnership by the speaker and the listener against 
the forces of confusion, represented by the ordinary 
difficulties of communication and by some supposed 
individuals attempting to jam the communication. 
Literally speaking, the game theory of von Neumann, 
which is involved in this connection, concerns one team 
which is deliberately trying to get the message across, 
and another team which will resort to any strategy to 
jam the message. In the strict von Neumann theory of 
games this means that the speaker and listener co- 
operate on policy in view of the assumption that the 
jamming agency is adopting the best policy to confuse 
them, again under the assumption that the speaker 
and the listener have been using the best policy up to 
the present, and so on. 

In more usual language, both the team of communi- 
cants and the jamming forces are at liberty to use the 
technique of bluffing to confound one another, and in 
general this technique will be used to prevent the other 



side from being able to act on a firm knowledge of the 
technique of one side. Both sides will then bluff, the 
jamming force in order to adapt themselves to new 
communication techniques developed by the com- 
municating forces, and the communicating forces to 
outwit any policy already developed by the jamming 
forces. In this connection concerning scientific method 
Albert Einstein's remark that I quoted earlier is of the 
greatest significance. "Der Herr Gott ist raffiniert, aber 
boshaft ist Er nicht." "God may be subtle, but he isn't 
plain mean." 

Far from being a cliche, this is a very profound state- 
ment concerning the problems of the scientist. To dis- 
cover the secrets of nature requires a powerful and 
elaborate technique, but at least we can expect one 
thing— that as far as inanimate nature goes, any step 
forward that we may take will not be countered by a 
change of policy by nature for the deliberate purpose 
of confusing and frustrating us. There may indeed be 
certain limitations to this statement as far as living 
nature is concerned, for the manifestations of hysteria 
are often made in view of an audience, and with the 
intention, which is frequently unconscious, of bam- 
boozling that audience. On the other hand, just as we 
seem to have conquered a germ disease, the germ may 
mutate and show traits which at least appear to have 
been developed with the deliberate intention of send- 
ing us back to the point where we have started. 

These infractuousities of nature, no matter how 
much they may annoy the practitioner of the life sci- 
ences, are fortunately not among the difficulties to be 
contemplated by the physicist. Nature plays fair and if, 
after climbing one range of mountains, the physicist 
sees another on the horizon before him, it has not been 
deliberately put there to frustrate the effort he has 
already made. 

It may seem superficially that even in the absence of 
a conscious or purposeful interference by nature, the 


policy of the research scientist should be to play it 
safe, and always act so that even a malicious and de- 
ceitful nature would not prevent his optimum acqui- 
sition and transfer of information. This point of view 
is unjustified. Communication in general, and scientific 
research in particular, involve a great deal of effort 
even if it is useful effort, and the fighting of bogies 
which are not there wastes effort which ought to be 
economized. We can not go through our communica- 
tive or scientific lives shadow-boxing with ghosts. Ex- 
perience has pretty well convinced the working 
physicist that any idea of a nature which is not only 
difficult to interpret but which actively resists interpre- 
tation has not been justified as far as his past work is 
concerned, and therefore, to be an effective scientist, 
he must be naive, and even deliberately naive, in mak- 
ing the assumption that he is dealing with an honest 
God, and must ask his questions of the world as an 
honest man. 

Thus the naivete of a scientist, while it is a pro- 
fessional adaptation, is not a professional defect. A 
man who approaches science with the point of view 
of an officer of detective police would spend most of 
his time frustrating tricks that are never going to be 
played on him, trailing suspects who would be per- 
fectly willing to give an answer to a direct question, 
and in general playing the fashionable cops-and-rob- 
bers game as it is now played within the realm of 
official and military science. I have not the slightest 
doubt that the present detective-mindedness of the 
lords of scientific administration is one of the chief 
reasons for the barrenness of so much present scientific 

It follows almost by a syllogism that there are other 
professions besides that of the detective which can and 
do disqualify a man for the most effective scientific 
work, both by making him suspect nature of disingenu- 
ousness, and by making him disingenuous in his atti- 


tude to nature and to questions about nature. The 
soldier is trained to regard life as a conflict between 
man and man, but even he is not as tightly bound 
to this point of view as the member of a militant 
religious order— the soldier of the Cross, or of the 
Hammer and Sickle. Here the existence of a funda- 
mentally propagandist point of view is much more im- 
portant than the particular nature of the propaganda. 
It matters little whether the military band to which 
one has pledged oneself be that of Ignatius Loyola 
or of Lenin, so long as he considers it more important 
that his beliefs should be on the right side than 
that he should maintain his freedom and even his 
professional naivete. He is unfitted for the highest 
flights of science no matter what his allegiance, as long 
as that allegiance is absolute. In this present day when 
almost every ruling force, whether on the right or on 
the left, asks the scientist for conformity rather than 
openness of mind, it is easy to understand how science 
has already suffered, and what further debasements 
and frustrations of science are to be expected in the 

I have already pointed out that the devil whom the 
scientist is fighting is the devil of confusion, not of will- 
ful malice. The view that nature reveals an entropic 
tendency is Augustinian, not Manichaean. Its inability 
to undertake an aggressive policy, deliberately to de- 
feat the scientist, means that its evil doing is the result 
of a weakness in his nature rather than of a specifically 
evil power that it may have, equal or inferior to the 
principles of order in the universe which, local and 
temporary as they may be, still are probably not too 
unlike what the religious man means by God. In 
Augustinianism, the black of the world is negative and 
is the mere absence of white, while in Manichaeanism, 
white and black belong to two opposed armies drawn 
up in line facing one another. There is a subtle emo- 
tional Manichaeanism implicit in all crusades, all 


jihads, and all wars of communism against the devil of 

The Augustinian position has always been difficult 
to maintain. It tends under the slightest perturbation 
to break down into a covert Manichaeanism. The 
emotional difficulty of Augustinianism shows itself in 
Milton's dilemma in Paradise Lost: If the devil is merely 
the creature of God and belongs to a world in which 
God is omnipotent, serving to point out some of the 
dark, confusing corners of the world, the great battle 
between the fallen angels and the forces of the Lord 
becomes about as interesting as a professional wres- 
tling match. If Milton's poem is to have the dignity 
of being more than one of these groan-and-grunt ex- 
hibitions, the devil must be given a chance of winning, 
at least in his own estimation, even though it be no 
more than an outside chance. The devil's own words 
in Paradise Lost convey his awareness of the omnipo- 
tence of God and the hopelessness of fighting him, yet 
his actions indicate that at least emotionally he con- 
siders this fight a desperate, but not utterly useless, 
assertion of the rights of his hosts and of himself. Even 
the Augustinian devil must watch his step or he will 
be converted to Manichaeanism. 

Any religious order which is based on the military 
model is under this same temptation to lapse into the 
Manichaean heresy. It has adopted as a simile for the 
forces which it is fighting that of an independent army 
which it is determined to defeat; but which could, at 
least conceivably, win the war and itself become the 
ruling force. For this reason, such an order or organi- 
zation is intrinsically unsuited to encourage an Augus- 
tinian attitude within the scientist; and furthermore, 
it does not tend to rate limpid intellectual honesty very 
high in its scale of virtues. Against an insidious enemy 
w ho himself plays tricks, military strategems are per- 
missible. Thus a religious military order is almost bound 
to set a great value on obedience, confessions of faith, 


and all the restricting influences which hamstring the 

It is true that nobody can speak for the Church but 
the Church itself, but it is equally true that those out- 
side the Church may, and even must, have their own 
attitudes toward the organization and its claims. It is 
equally true that communism as an intellectual force 
is fundamentally what the Communists say it is, but 
their statements have a binding claim on us only as 
matters of the definition of an ideal and not as a de- 
scription that we can act on of a specific organization 
or movement. 

It appears that Marx's own view was Augustinian, 
and that evil was for him rather a lack of perfection 
than an autonomous positioned force fighting against 
good. Nevertheless, communism has grown up in an 
atmosphere of combat and conflict, and the general 
tendency seems to be to relegate the final Hegelian 
synthesis to which the Augustinian attitude toward 
evil is appropriate, to a future which, if not infinitely 
remote, has at least a very attenuated reference to what 
is happening at present. 

Thus, for the present, and as a matter of practical 
conduct, both the camp of communism and many ele- 
ments in the camp of the Church take attitudes which 
are definitely Manichaean. I have implied that Mani- 
chaeanism is a bad atmosphere for science. Curious as 
it may seem, this is because it is a bad atmosphere for 
faith. When we do not know whether a particular 
phenomenon we observe is the work of God or the 
work of Satan, the very roots of our faith are shaken. 
It is only under such a condition that it is possible to 
make a significant, willful choice between God and 
Satan, and this choice may lead to diabolism, or (in 
other words ) to witchcraft. Furthermore, it is only in 
an atmosphere in which witchcraft is genuinely pos- 
sible that witch-hunting flourishes as a significant 
activity. Thus it is no accident that Russia has had its 
Berias and that we have our McCarthys. 


I have said that science is impossible without faith. 
By this I do not mean that the faith on which science 
depends is religious in nature or involves the accept- 
ance of any of the dogmas of the ordinary religious 
creeds, yet without faith that nature is subject to law 
there can be no science. No amount of demonstration 
can ever prove that nature is subject to law. For all we 
know, the world from the next moment on might be 
something like the croquet game in Alice in Wonder- 
land, where the balls are hedgehogs which walk off, 
the hoops are soldiers who march to other parts of the 
field, and the rules of the game are made from instant 
to instant by the arbitrary decree of the Queen. It is to 
a world like this that the scientist must conform in 
totalitarian countries, no matter whether they be those 
of the right or of the left. The Marxist Queen is very 
arbitrary indeed, and the fascist Queen is a good match 
for her. 

What I say about the need for faith in science is 
equally true for a purely causative world and for one 
in which probability rules. No amount of purely ob- 
jective and disconnected observation can show that 
probability is a valid notion. To put the same statement 
in other language, the laws of induction in logic can- 
not be established inductively. Inductive logic, the 
logic of Bacon, is rather something on which we can act 
than something which we can prove, and to act on it 
is a supreme assertion of faith. It is in this connection 
that I must say that Einstein's dictum concerning the 
directness of God is itself a statement of faith. Sci- 
ence is a way of life which can only flourish when men 
are free to have faith. A faith which we follow upon 
orders imposed from outside is no faith, and a com- 
munity which puts its dependence upon such a 
pseudo-faith is ultimately bound to ruin itself because 
of the paralysis which the lack of a healthily growing 
science imposes upon it. 


Acapulco, 137 

Action ( intended ) , 27, 163-65 
Action (performed), 27, 163- 

Adam, 84 

Alice in Wonderland, charac- 
ters from, 45, 46, 193 

America, 41, 42, 43, 50, 113 

Ampere, Andre, 15 

Amphisbaena, 48-49 

Analogy machines. See Ma- 
chine; Computing machines 

Ants, 51-52, 54-56, 84 

Arabic, 87, 88, 89 

Aristotle, 67, 90 

Ashby, W. Ross, 34, 37, 38, 

48, 173 
Atomic bomb, 45, 125, 128 
Automata, 15, 21, 22, 23, 24, 
26, 32-34, 38, 5 1 , 59, 66, 
76-78, 96, 147-62, 165-67, 

173 ff. 

Babbage, Charles, 149 
Babylonia, 44 
Battleship, 120 

Bell Laboratories, 114-15, 168 

ff., 176 
Beria, Lavrenti, 192 
Bible, the, 86 
Bigelow, Julian, 163 
Birds, 74 
Blindness, 85 
Bohr, Nils, 125 
Bolzmann, Ludwig, 7, 8 
Borel, Emile, 9, 10 

Botany, 67-68 

Brain, 17, 33, 56. See also 

Bristol, England, 166 
Bronze Age, the, 45 
Brownian Motion, 10 
Brownoski, Dr. J., 95 
Buddhism, 43, 86, 99 
Burden Neurological Institute, 


Burgoyne, General, 49 
Bush, Vannevar, 149, 150 
Butler, Samuel, 182-83 

Cable, transoceanic, 45 
Calculus Ratiocinator, 19 
Calvinism, 42 

Campbell ( telephone engi- 
neer), 115 
Canada, 49, 76 
Cat, 82. See also Kitten 
Catholicism, 42, 102, 113, 

Cattle, 44, 69 

Characteristica Universalis, 19 
Chemical factory, 22 
Chess, 175 ff. 
Chimpanzees, 82, 83, 84 
China, 86, 141 
Chinese language, 88 
Chinook Jargon, 88 
Chitin, 54, 55 
Christianity, 98-99, 190 
Cicero, Marcus, 89, 90 
Civil Law, 105 ff. 
Civil War, the American, 43 



Clockmaker, 21 
Columbus, Christopher, 44 
Commands. See Control 
Communication, 16, 17, 18, 
21, 22, 26, 27, 33, 39, 48- 
50, 69-72, 74, 76-79, 81, 
87, 91-92, 93-94, 98, 105 
ff., 112 ff., 131 ff., 163 ff., 
167 fF., 187 ff. See also In- 
formation; Message 
Communism, 43, 181-82, 190- 

Computing machines, 15, 23— 
24, 64-65, 102, 148-62 

Conditioned reflex, 68-69, 7 2 

Confucius, 86 

Conrad, Joseph, 44 

Contingency, 11 

Control, 16-18, 22, 25-27, 32- 
33, 42, 49, 61-62, 69-72, 
76-77, 79 

Controlled missile, 22 

Cybernetics, 12, 16, 17 ff., 57, 

69, 77, 92-94, no 
Cybernetics (by Wiener), 15, 

Dacia, 44 

Darwin, Charles, 37, 38, 87 
DaVinci, Leonardo, 118 
Deafness, 167-173 
Death, 31, 40-41, 95, 130. 

See also Heat death 
DeBroglie, Louis, 10 
Design for a Brain ( by Ashby ) , 


Determinism, 8, 9, 10, 11 
Dickens, Charles, 114-115 
Differential Analyzer. See 

Computing machines 
Disorganization, 12, 21 

Pere, 178-S2 
Ducange, Charles, 87 
Diirer, Albrecht, 118 
Dynamite, 45 

East India Company, 87 
Edison, Thomas, 115 
Education, 41, 132-34 
Effectors, 17, 32, 65-66 
Egypt, 124 

Einstein, Albert, 10, 20, 35, 

93, 188, 193 
Elizabeth I, Queen, 141 
Enclaves, 31 

Encyclopedia Britannica, 103 
Energy, 12, 17, 20-21, 25, 28, 

30-32, 34, 37-41, 145 ff. 
England, 49, 121 
English language, 79, 88 
Enlightenment, the, 37 
Entropy, 12, 17, 20-21, 25, 

28, 30-34, 37-41, 48, 61, 


Equilibrium, 30, 37-38 

Erewhon (by Butler), 182 

Eskimos, 88 

Esperanto, 90, 92 

Europe, 45, 97 

Evil, 11, 34-35, 190-93 

Evolution, theory of, 37, 87 

Factory system, changes in, 

140-44, 152, 154-62 
Faraday, Michael, 19, 114, 


Farragut, Admiral, 44 
Faust, 35 

Feedback, 23, 25-26, 33, 49, 
50, 58-61, 63, 96, 151-53, 
156-58, 164 ff. 

Feedback ( human ) , 26-33, 

Fermat, Pierre de, 18 
Fermi, Enrico, 125 
Fire control (anti-aircraft), 

61-63, 72, 148 
Fourier Series, 10 
French Academy of Sciences, 


French Revolution, 37, 105 
Freud, Sigmund, 11 


Gallup Poll, 180 

Games, Theory of, 35-36, 177 

ff., 187 
Gardner, Erie Stanley, 111 
General Electric Company, 


Gibbs, Willard, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 

12, 15, 17, 20, 27 
Gilbreth, Frank and Lillian, 


Glossarium Mediae atque In- 
finae Latinitatis (by Du- 
cange), 87 

God, 35 

Goldberg, Rube, 134 
Greece, 183-84 
Greek language, 87, 88 
Greenwich, England, 137 
Greenwich time, 137 
Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelin, 

Harvard University, 101 
Hastings, Warren, 87 
Heat Death, 31 
Heaviside, Oliver, 115 
Hebrew language, 87, 89 
Heisenberg, Werner, 10 
Hobbes, Thomas, 180 
Holland, 60. See also Low 

Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 60 
Homeostasis, 95-96 
Humpty Dumpty, 32 
Huygens, Christian, 18 
"Huygens, Principle," 18 

Imago, 55 
India, 97, 141 
Indians (American), 109 
Industrial Revolution, First, 
136 ff. 

Industrial Revolution, Second, 
136 ff. 

Information, 17-18, 21, 26, 
28, 31, 33, 39. 61, 77-78, 

81, 104 ff., 116, 119, 121- 
22, 126 ff., 132 ff. See also 
Message; Communication 

Input, 22 

Insects, 51-58, 74 

Instability, 25 

Institute for Advanced Studies, 
Princeton, New Jersey, 175 
Internuncial pool, 80 
Invention, 42, 115 ff., 136 ff. 
Islam, 43, 88 
Isolated systems, 12, 28 
Israel, 42 

Jacobs, W. W., 185 
Jesperson, Otto, 88, 91 
Jews, 42, 86 
Job, 42 

Jungle Books (by Kipling), 

Kinesthesia, 17, 24 

Kipling, Rudyard, 84, 96-97, 

Kitten, 22 

Lamarck, Jean Baptiste, 37 
Language, 15, 31-32, 74~94> 

151, 187 ff- 
Latin language, 87, 88, 89, 90 
Law. See Civil Law; Patent 


Learning, 48, 63, 83-85, 9° 
Lebesgue, Henri, 9, 10, 11 
Leeuwenhoek, Anton von, 99- 

Leibnitz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 
18, 19, 20, 21, 48, 51. 99. 

"Le Monde" (Paris journal), 

Leviathan (by Hobbes), 180 
Levine, Leon, 168 
Life, 31, 32, 39-40 
Lingua Franca, 88 
Linnaeus, Carolus, 67 



Little Dorrit (by Dickens), 

114. n 5 
Locke, John, 63, 67, 68 
Lorentz, Hendrick, 20 
Los Alamos, New Mexico, 128 
Low Countries, 44, 60 
Lyceum, the, 90 

McCarthy, Senator Joseph, 

112, 192 
Machiavelli, Niccolo, 113 
Machine, 16, 27, 31-34, 38, 

48-49, 57, 64-65, 76 ff., 

136 ff., 151 ff., 163-186. See 

also Automata 
Maecenas, Gaius Cilnius, 120 
Maelzel, 175 
Maginot Line, 122 
Malta, 44 

Malthus, Thomas, 37 
Mandelbrot, Benoit, 92 
Manicheanism, 11, 34, 35, 

Marlborough, Duke of, 44 
Marx, Karl, 38, 113, 192 
Massachusetts Institute of 

Technology, 165, 174 
Maxwell, Clerk, 7, 19, 28-29, 


"Maxwell Demon," 28-30 

Memory (in animal and man), 
55, 57, 59, 80-81 

Memory in automatic ma- 
chines, 23, 57, 59. See also 

Mephistopheles, 35 

Message, 16, 21, 68-73, 74 ff-, 
94, 95 ff., 132-35- See also 
Cybernetics; Communica- 
tion; Information 

Metamorphosis, 54-55 

Mexico, 118 

Michelson and Morley's ex- 
periment, 19, 20 
Middle Ages, the, 88 
Millenium, Day of Judgment, 

42, 43, 46 
Milton, John, 191 
Missiles, guided, 45 
Molecules, 28-29 
Mollusks, 53 

Monitors in automatic machin- 
ery, 23, 151-52. See also 

Monkeys, 74, 82-83 

Morgenstern, Oskar, 178 

Motor, electric, 143-44 

Movies, 131-33 

Musket, 43-44 

Music box, 21-22 

"Natural selection," 37 

Nature, 35, 38 

Navigation, 136-39, *44-45 

Neurology, 26-27, 33~34, 63- 
65, 80. See also Brain; Ef- 
fectors; Receptors; Feedback 
( Human ) ; Synapses; Con- 
ditioned Reflex; Internuncial 

Newcomen, Thomas, 141 

New England, 121 

New Hampshire, 46 

New Haven, Connecticut, 9 

New Spain, 140 

Newspapers, 131-32 

Newton, Isaac, 7, 8, 18, 20, 

38, 67, 138 
Newtonian physics, 7, 8, 10, 

20, 27, 28, 38 
New York, 23 
Nirvana, 43, 99 

Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 128 
One Thousand and One 

Nights, 185 
Optics, 18, 19, 20 
Organization, 12, 21, 31, 37- 

38, 95 ff., 126 ff. 
Output, 22 

Panama Canal, 49 


Paradise Lost (by Milton), 

Parameters, 92 
"Parkinsonianism," 163-65 
Paris, 9, 178 
Pascal, Blaise, 21 
Patent law, 113 ff. 
Pattern, 37, 83-84, 96 ff. 
Pavlov, Ivan, 63, 68 
Persia, 86, 91 
Peter Pan, 58 

Philips Lamp Company ( Hol- 
land), 60 
Philology, 85-94 
Photoelectric eels, 23, 33 
Photosynthesis, 38 
Phyfe, Duncan, 117 
Planck, Max, 10 
Plato, 95 

Poe, Edgar Allen, 175 
Poker, 35 

Possible worlds, 21 
Prince, Dr. Morton, 101 
Princeton, New Jersey, 175 
Probability, 11, 12, 15, 20-22, 

Progress, 28, 38, 41-42, 47, 

Protestants, 42 
Puberty, 58 
Punch cards, 24 
Purpose, 31 

Quantum theory, 38, 39 

Radio, 132 
Railroads, 121 
Rask, Rasmus, 87 
Receptors, 17, 63-64, 80 
Relativity, theory of, 20 
Renaissance, the, 44, 87, 89, 

Revolution (the American), 49 
Revolution of 20th-century 

physics, 10, 27, 29-31, 38- 


Rifles, 120 
Rome, 44, 91-92 
Roosevelt, Theodore, 43 
Rosenblueth, Arturo, 163 
Rosetta Stone, 124 
Russia, 182, 192 
Russell, Bertrand, 60, 75 

St. Augustine, 11, 27, 34-35, 

St. Paul, 44 
St. Thomas, 89 
Sandwich glass, 117 
Sanskrit, 87, 89 
Santa Claus, 41 
Saratoga, New York, 49 
School of Oriental Studies (at 

Fort William), 87 
Science fiction, 96, 104 
Sense Organs, 22-23, 28, 85, 

Shakespeare, William, 119 
Shannon, Claude, 16, 115, 

176, 178 
Seal of Solomon, 185 
Shipbuilding, 44 
Silver Fleet, the, 137 
Singleton, Henry, 165 
Siqueiros, 118 
Smelting, 45 
Soul, 31, 32 
South Africa, 141 
Spain, 137 

Speech, human, 82—86, 169- 

Spermatozoa, 99-101 
Sphinx, 86 
Statistics, 7, 8, 62 
Steamboat, 45 
Steam engine, 45, 139 ff. 
Stone Age, 44 
Strychnine, 45 
Submarines, 120 
Subway, 29 
Swahili, 88 

Synapse, 34, 63, 71, 80 



Syriac language, 87 
Szilard, Leo, 125 

Tabula rasa, 67 
Tanks, 120 

Taping, 23, 62, 69-70 
Taylor, Frederick, 150 
Telegraph, 45 

Telephone, 39 59-60, 91, 98 
Television, 132 
"Tell-tales," 23 
Texas, 44 

The Human Use of Human 
Beings (by Wiener), 15 

The Living Brain (by Walter), 
33, 34 

The Monkey's Paw (by 

Jacobs), 185, 186 
Theory of Games (by von 

Neumann), 35, 178, 181 
Thermodynamics, Second Law 

of, 28-29, 36-37 
Thermometer, 33 
"The Wonderful One-Hoss 

Shay" (by Holmes), 60 
Tower of Babel, 84, 87 
Treadmill, 29 
Turnstile, 29 
Twinning, 100-1 

Ultrafax, 98 

United States, 50, 97, 112, 
113, 115, 127, 128, 140, 

Universe, the, 30-31 

Vacuum tube, 144-48 
Venice, 112 
"Vitalism," 32 
"Vocoder," 168, 172, 173 
Volapiik, 92 

Von Neumann, John, 35, 175- 
76, 178, 181, 187 

Walter, Dr. Grey, 33, 34, 166- 

67, 173 
Waterloo, 44 

Watt, James, 115, 139, 140, 

Weaver, Warren, 16 
West, the American, 43 
Westinghouse Company, 115 
Wiener, Norbert, 9, 10, 15, 

163 ff., 178 
Wiesner, r J. B., 165, 167 
Witcher, Clifford, 174 
With the Night Mail (by Kip- 
ling), 96-97 
Wister, Owen, 43 
World State, 92 
World War II, 15, 61-62, 

122-23, 148-51 
Wright, Wilbur and Orville, 

World, the, 21, 36 
Yiddish, 88